Why an early years and early intervention framework?
What happens to children in their earliest years says much about our society and is key to outcomes in adult life. This is now supported by a wide range of research evidence from education, health, justice and economic experts. This framework at its simplest is about giving all our children the best start in life and the steps the Scottish Government, local partners and practitioners in early years services need to take to start us on that journey.
Early years and early intervention
For the purposes of this framework, we are defining early years as pre-birth to 8 years old. This broad definition of early years is a recognition of the importance of pregnancy in influencing outcomes and that the transition into primary school is a critical period in children's lives. Many aspects of this framework are equally relevant to children beyond the age of 8.
At the heart of this framework is an approach which recognises the right of all young children to high quality relationships, environments and services which offer a holistic approach to meeting their needs. Such needs should be interpreted broadly and encompass play, learning, social relationships and emotional and physical wellbeing. This approach is important for all children but is of particular benefit in offering effective support to those children and families requiring higher levels of support.
Early intervention has relevance to a wide range of social policy but it is particularly relevant in early years, which will often be the earliest and best opportunity to intervene. We have identified 4 principles of early intervention. In short, these are:
- we want all to have the same outcomes and the same opportunities;
- we identify those at risk of not achieving those outcomes and take steps to prevent that risk materialising;
- where the risk has materialised, we take effective action;
- we work to help parents, families and communities to develop their own solutions, using accessible, high quality public services as required.
A new level of ambition in early years
This framework starts from an analysis of the type of experiences that will support positive outcomes for children, based on evidence from research and from work with parents and children. This provides the basis for a new vision for early years that reflects the high ambitions that the Scottish Government and local government have for early years.
The vision establishes a new conceptualisation of early years - that children should be valued and provided for within communities; the importance of strong, sensitive relationships with parents and carers; the right to a high quality of life and access to play; the need to put children at the centre of service delivery; to provide more support through universal services when children need it; and that children should be able to achieve positive outcomes irrespective of race, disability or social background.
Parents and communities play a crucial role in outcomes for children. That role needs to be valued by parents and communities themselves, but also supported by the community planning process. The vision also highlights the importance of high quality, flexible and engaging services delivered by a valued and appropriately qualified workforce in delivering the ambitions of this framework.
Putting the vision into action
These ambitions cannot be achieved by a business as usual approach. Transformational change is required, and 10 elements of transformational change have been identified. These are:
- a coherent approach;
- helping children, families and communities to secure outcomes for themselves;
- breaking cycles of poverty, inequality and poor outcomes in and through early years;
- a focus on engagement and empowerment of children, families and communities;
- using the strength of universal services to deliver prevention and early intervention;
- putting quality at the heart of service delivery;
- services that meet the needs of children and families;
- improving outcomes and children's quality of life through play;
- simplifying and streamlining delivery;
- more effective collaboration.
Single outcome agreements and the community planning process will be the key local mechanisms for putting this framework into practice. In doing so, the focus will remain on outcomes rather than inputs, and we will work to develop better indicators of outcomes from early years policies and services. The Scottish Government and local partners will continue to work closely in partnership in taking forward action, some key elements of which are likely to include:
- more help to develop parenting skills within antenatal and postnatal care and developing the capacity needed to deliver this;
- a renewed focus on 0-3 as the period of a child's development that shapes future outcomes;
- breaking down barriers between education and childcare through a move towards more integrated, flexible services;
- improving play opportunities and addressing barriers to play;
- more consistent access to intensive family support services in the early years;
- more help for informal support networks;
- nurseries, schools and childcare centres developing their role in family and community learning;
- adult services such as housing, transport and development planning putting a greater focus on the needs of young children and families;
- developing common values in the workforce, enhancing workforce skills and developing broader workforce roles;
- building on work already in progress through Getting it Right for Every Child and Curriculum for Excellence to provide child-centred, outcome-focused services
We recognise that these are high ambitions at a time when there will be no new money available for implementation. This framework can only be taken forward by realigning and prioritising resources to offer more effective support to all families and to enable help to be provided earlier to children and families requiring additional support. We believe that the improvements that are envisaged offer significant economic as well as social dividends for communities - in the short and medium-term helping to support employment and enhance productivity and in the longer term to improve a range of outcomes and reduce the need for costly crisis interventions. A simpler, integrated structure of services also has significant potential to deliver greater value for money. We do not underestimate the challenge of reallocating resources while continuing to help those who need our support now; but we believe that it is essential that we strive to do so.