4. A focus on engagement and empowerment of children, families and communities
Valuing children, parenting and families
Many elements of the vision are about the value that we as a society place on early years and a sense that a whole range of early years experiences contribute to outcomes. We therefore believe that recognition of the value of the early years is critical to achieving our overall vision.
At the heart of what needs to change is a new attitude to the importance of parents and parenting, particularly in the period before birth and in the very early years of life. Parents themselves must understand the importance of that role for their children's wellbeing and development. We want people to have the skills and the support needed to support positive outcomes for their children, and this will involve greater self-awareness from prospective parents about their readiness to provide a supportive environment for children. We also need to promote a culture where it is 'OK to ask for' and 'OK to get' parenting support.
Many people in the wider community already realise the central importance of parenting in children's attainment, behaviour and health throughout their lives. At the moment, this is too often focused on the teenage years and expressed in blame and recrimination when outcomes are poor. A vital part of this framework's success will lie in harnessing the community's desire to see improvements in parenting into valuing and supporting parents to play a positive role in the critical early years of their child's life.
Angus Council - Working in Nurseries/Schools and with Parents in the Family Home
The School and Family Support Service consists of 2 teams, an Early Years Team, and a team of Social Workers, Community Learning and Development Workers and a Mental Health Nurse. All staff in the Service work in schools, supporting school staff to deal with difficult situations, and in family homes working with parents to improve parenting and learning outcomes for children. The focus of the work of the Service is on early intervention and prevention.
Through the use of play, the Early Years Team have supported parents to engage with their children's learning and development and enhance a positive family environment. By working closely with parents and children in family homes, parenting skills have improved as well as children's behaviour in school. Parents indicate they are better placed to support their children's learning as a result of input from the Service.
The Service uses a solution-focused approach which recognises parents' skills and strengths and builds on them. Thereby parents and school staff do not feel judged or blamed when things become difficult.
The Early Years Workers have supported the protection of vulnerable children by early identification of problems and agreed plans of intervention and joint work with a wide range of partners, including police, health, social work and the voluntary sector. This has included group work approaches, e.g. circle time, used in pre-school and Primary 1, to support the development of companionship and social inclusion for such children.
Angus is presently piloting an approach whereby a member of staff in each sector of a local area - the secondary school, the primary schools and the nurseries and lower primary - work as a team. This allows for more in-depth work with parents in the home; a faster response which has stopped situations becoming child protection issues; more regular contact with vulnerable younger children and their families; anti-social behaviour being resolved early; and follow through of continuous support from ages 3-18.
Common values across the workforce
The values that we bring to our relationship with children in the early years are important at a societal level but they are particularly important for those who work with children and those whose work has a major impact on children, including some adult services such as housing and community learning and development.
There are many parts to the early years workforce and there is no agreed definition or boundary as to what constitutes a children's worker or an early years worker. There are many different roles and sectors within the workforce, each with its own focus, culture and, in some cases, regulatory system.
Some of these differences are necessary and legitimate, but in order to emphasise the importance of a holistic approach, and to make services more engaging for children and families, we need all of those working with children and families to be working to common values.
As noted above, a set of core values and principles have been developed as part of Getting it Right for Every Child. Work is also underway to ensure that the workforce understands the values and principles that underpin the UNCRC. We do not want to create a separate set of values for early years, and our approach will therefore be to take the Getting it Right for Every Child and UNCRC values as a starting point for our Common Values Statement.
As well as highlighting the importance of common values across the early years workforce, it is important to increase the status of the workforce and the value we place on it. In order to provide the quality of services we want for children and families we must invest in the workforce delivering those services. A career in early years must be attractive to every potential recruit, dispelling the myth that it is 'low skilled, low paid, women's work'.