2. Helping children, families and communities to secure outcomes for themselves
Partnership with families and communities
The largest influences on children in the early years are their parents, with the wider family and the community often also playing a significant role. Improvements in outcomes therefore depend crucially on developing a partnership with parents and communities so that all of the influences on the child are contributing towards positive outcomes.
Families and communities need to be given the opportunity to develop their own aspirations and be given the responsibility, with the support of public services, for taking these forward and assessing how they are progressing.
In particular, community planning needs to get right down to the local level to give local people a sense of ownership and give them some control over how they want early years support to be developed in their community.
Plans and services should be oriented around doing things with people rather than 'to' or 'for' them. This is critical in developing a capacity-building approach. Parents and other members of the communities should be encouraged to be active participants in early years services through community engagement, volunteering and other routes, and be given the support needed to do so.
Measurement of success should incorporate children's experiences and community perspectives as far as possible, possibly within a balanced scorecard approach.
Developing a culture of family and community learning
Parenting skills and community development are central to the capacity building model. We must therefore put these elements at the heart of our approach and of services for children and families. We should see parenting skills not just as something that are learned in the first few months of a child's life, but as part of the wider education and community development system.
We cannot impose aspirations on people, but we can challenge them to take responsibility for their own outcomes and create an environment within which they can determine their own aspirations. This means giving them a stake as active participants and valuing the role that mutual support networks such as parent and toddler groups can have in supporting positive outcomes for children.
We know that when the people around them are involved in learning this can have an important impact on children's positive development. This is perhaps most directly evident where learning for adults is focused on parenting skills or involvement in their child's education. However, we can also see that, more generally, if people are involved in learning - with the impacts that often has on skills and confidence - that will also benefit their children and other children in their community. Valuing the benefits of parenting education, family learning and wider involvement in learning is therefore a key part of our agenda for giving our children the best possible start in life.
Perth and Kinross Community Link Worker
The Community Link Worker Team is based in school clusters and support children and families. The team consists of 16 staff. Community Link Workers are a valuable link with parents and the wider community. The teams take a coherent approach to Community Learning activities in schools, drawing Youth Workers and Community Link Workers together in joint projects.
In one particular example, a child had been finding school difficult to cope with. The relationship between the family and the school had become strained and the family was referred to the team for assistance. The Community Link Worker helped to explain the family situation to the school. Through family activities and courses, they also helped the father involved understand the relationship with his son and worked on improving their communication skills, teaching them how to get their points across calmly to the school. Since being referred to the link worker, the family have noticed changes in the way they understand each other and are looking for further opportunities to bond through taking part in activities together. They have also noted an improvement in their confidence levels, allowing them to communicate more constructively with the school.
A huge amount of activity goes on 'under the radar' in communities across Scotland, providing support, opportunities and, sometimes, a voice for children and their families. Networks and community groups - whether formal or informal, and whether explicitly focused on issues for children or not - therefore have an important part to play in improving the wider, supportive environment in which children grow up. We want to see that contribution supported and expanded.
Support for that activity takes place across Scotland through specialist community development or community capacity building work. That support can be provided by a range of organisations in the statutory and third sectors (including, in some instances, organisations which focus on providing services to children and families). It can play a particularly important role in building capacity with communities who are disadvantaged by poverty or other factors.
This isn't about imposing external views of what issues should be important to communities. Rather it is about ensuring that support to build community networks and organisations - around the issues that matter to communities themselves - is co-ordinated and its contribution recognised.
Families within which English is not a first language may need additional support so that both parents and children are able to participate more effectively in community, education and working life. Family learning programmes, including appropriate English for Speakers of Other Languages ( ESOL) provision, based on an understanding, appreciation and respect for the values and beliefs of migrant families, can be a highly effective means of improving the involvement of migrant parents in their children's and their own education.