Early years and early intervention: joint Scottish Government and COSLA policy statement

This document sets out a joint approach to early years and early intervention by the Scottish Government and COSLA.


It is important to make clear that early intervention does not mean early interference by the state at national or local level. A key part of any early intervention policy is building the capacity of individuals, families and communities to secure the best outcomes for themselves. It is about moving from intervening when a crisis happens towards prevention, building resilience and providing the right level of support before problems materialise.

Early Intervention Principles

In developing a strategic approach to early intervention, Ministers and COSLA have identified some key principles. These build on the principles of solidarity and cohesion set out in the Government Economic Strategy.

These principles provide an important bridge between what the Scottish Government and local authorities want to achieve (the Purpose, outcomes, indicators and targets) and how we will achieve it (specific policies and actions). The principles are -

  • Our ambitions are universal - we want to reduce inequalities in a variety of policy areas, to have the same outcomes for all and for all to have the same opportunities.
  • We take action to identify those at risk of not achieving these outcomes or having these opportunities and take action to prevent that risk materialising (action is not limited to those most at risk but applies to risk at whatever level identified).
  • We make sustained and effective interventions in cases where these risks have materialised.
  • We shift the focus from service provision as the vehicle for delivery of outcomes to building the capacity of individuals, families and communities to secure outcomes, and addressing the external barriers which they may face in seeking to maximise their life chances, making use of high quality, accessible public services as required.

Embedding the Principles of Early Intervention in Policy

In moving forward to develop more specific strategies and policies based on these principles, a number of common challenges are emerging. These will need a co-ordinated effort across a range of social policy strategies -

  • Developing processes and roles for co-creation of strategy and action plans between the Scottish Government and delivery partners and users. Developing a common view of the right balance between strategic policy and specific actions within such strategies.
  • Delivering more differentiation and personalisation of services, with an emphasis on identification of risk, need and resilience and providing an appropriate intensity of support related to need. Developing packages of support at the individual/family level.
  • Developing pathways of education and care from universal services to much more targeted support.
  • Maintaining and improving quality of services through training and qualifications and developing leadership.
  • Developing new roles/structures within the workforce to deliver a more people-centred service that is based on working alongside people and is not constrained by service boundaries.
  • Improving engagement with service users, particularly those who need the most support. Encouraging service users to participate actively, where appropriate, in decision making and planning.
  • Developing success measures and accountability structures for delivery partners.
  • In partnership, supporting infrastructure development and use which enables flexible, transformational working practices.

Children and young people will be a natural focus of early intervention. Many risks start to become apparent during childhood and there is good evidence to suggest that the earlier the action to prevent or mitigate risk and harm, the better.

Early Intervention for Children and Young People

Policy for children and young people will sit within the context of the Purpose, strategic objectives, national outcomes, indicators and targets. It will contribute to all five strategic objectives, to the strategic priorities within the Government Economic Strategy and to the solidarity and cohesion of Scottish society. There are three national outcomes that relate specifically to children and young people -

  • Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed.
  • Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.
  • We have improved life chances for children, young people and families at risk.

The contribution of policies for children and young people is not limited to these outcomes. They will also contribute to all of the other outcomes, in particular -

  • We realise our full economic potential with more and better employment opportunities for our people.
  • We are better educated, more skilled and more successful, renowned for our research and innovation.
  • We live longer, healthier lives.
  • We have tackled the significant inequalities in Scottish society.
  • We live our lives safe from crime, disorder and danger.
  • We have strong, resilient and supportive communities where people take responsibility for their own actions and how they affect others.
  • We take pride in a strong, fair and inclusive national identity.
  • Our public services are of high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people's needs.

Within the learning and wellbeing and equity strategic priorities of the Government's Economic Strategy we have identified key actions to:

  • help parents and carers provide a nurturing and stimulating home environment, including help for parents with any literacy and numeracy issues of their own so that they can in turn help their children;
  • join up the education experience for children, managing more effectively the transitions from pre-school to school and onto further and higher education or work;
  • ensure that we equip young people with good literacy and numeracy skills - giving them the confidence and ability to continue to learn and develop other skills whether they choose to enter work or continue with their formal education;
  • take forward the Curriculum for Excellence, enabling all children and young people to develop as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors, helping young people develop and appreciate the importance of the essential skills and capacities so critical to work and later life;
  • ensure access to public services, including business support and transport, is enhanced across Scotland and that equity of provision is a central consideration in decision making;
  • focus the Government's policy across our strategic objectives on reducing inequality in Scotland and influence the UK Government to ensure welfare reform addresses Scotland's social equity issues;
  • ensure that support is provided to improve the life chances of those most at risk;
  • ensure that young people who need more choices and more chances have access to these; and
  • provide high quality, reliable childcare that can give those furthest from employment confidence to take initial steps towards employability.

In order to deliver the Purpose, strategic objectives, national outcomes, indicators and targets we need:

  • action by a wide range of services to support all of our children and young people, recognising that responsibility for their development lies principally with their families; and
  • action by universal and targeted services to identify risks to individuals (and their families and communities) as quickly as possible and ensure these are addressed, recognising that:
    • action to support the youngest children and their parents is likely to be most effective; but that
    • risks do emerge for older children and young people; and that
    • services need to continue to support older children and young people who are already in need of support.

It is also vital that we engage providers and users of services fully in the development of the policy and in its delivery.

By embedding the above principles within a range of policies for children and young people we can bring a coherent approach that can also extend across the wider social policy landscape. This process has already begun. The Getting it Right for Every Child programme is founded on the principles of early intervention, that is, appropriate, proportionate and timely intervention and provides a framework for putting them into action for all children and young people at the individual level. Similarly, we are already some way down the road to putting these principles into action within the education system through Curriculum for Excellence and within the NHS through Health for all Children. These principles will also underpin work to provide More Choices and More Chances for children and young people at risk.

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