During the past decade, there has been an increasing awareness from the fields of psychology, neuroscience and social science of the impact on an infant between 0-3 years of an environment which is impoverished, combined with parenting which is neglectful or abusive. This can result in children who experience an increase in mental health difficulties in later childhood or adulthood, relationship difficulties, antisocial behaviours and aggression
Political parties across the UK have recognised this and prior to the UK election in 2010, the commitment to early intervention in a child's life was reflected in the manifestos of the three main political parties: from early interventions to fix our 'broken society' (Conservatives) through to early interventions to support families (Labour) and early intervention to promote children's academic achievements (Liberal Democrats).
Reviews undertaken by Allen (2011) and Munro (2011), which looked at the provision of services in England, acknowledged that it may be necessary to intervene early in the development of problems or issues as well as early in a child's life, both of which are key in child neglect. Munro discussed the need to introduce a duty on all local services to coordinate an 'early offer' of help to families address problems before they escalate, who do not meet the criteria for social care.
Similarly, there has been a continuing commitment to improving the welfare of Scotland's children and the vision of the current majority Scottish National Party (SNP) is clear:
We will help everyone to fulfil their potential, by focusing on the quality of our education and support, from the earliest years right through life. We will raise and realise ambition and attainment for all, and support our vulnerable groups so that children, young people and their families get the help and support they need when they need it.
(Scottish Government, 2011, p7)
Since the SNP first formed an administration in 2007, policy developments in Scotland aimed at developing and improving the welfare and well being of its children and young people have included the development of:
- GIRFEC - an approach which applies to all children to promote early intervention and how practitioners across all services for children and adults meet the needs of children and young people, working together where necessary, to ensure that they reach their full potential
- the Early Years Framework
- Curriculum for Excellence - a framework which aims to provide every child in Scotland with learning opportunities tailored to their individual needs
- the Looked After Children Strategic Implementation Group to help improve the outcomes for looked after children
- a Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland to coordinate actions across government and public services.
Following the election of 2011, statements from the SNP majority government have reinforced its commitment to children and young people. Two recent reports have been influential in this process: Joining the Dots (Deacon, 2011) set out why the early years of a child is important, why they matter and how we can work together to provide the right opportunities for learning and development; and the Christie Commission (2011) discussed the importance of early years, prevention and personalised service delivery with a focus on the achievement of outcomes. Development of a National Parenting Strategy for Scotland has been launched. Finally, there has been recognition that the rights of the child are of paramount importance to achieving the vision of improving life chances for all children and young people.
As part of achieving this vision, the Government is introducing a suite of legislation which seeks to:
- embed the Early Years Framework, with a strong focus on appropriate early intervention
- build upon the Getting it right for every child approach to ensure that services are delivered in a child-centred way
- support a stronger focus on the achieving outcomes and improving the
life chances of children and young people
- remove barriers to effective child-centred service delivery
- introduce legislation to improve the delivery of care, support and
services to children in the 21st century.
(Scottish Government, 2011 pp.8-9)
A new piece of legislation is being developed to enshrine this vision in law: the proposed Children and Young People Bill. Introduction of the Bill is planned for 2013 with commencement starting in 2014. Some key aspirations of the proposed Bill are to:
- provide effective early years support
- increase prevention and early intervention
- support parents effectively
- deliver child-centred support and services
- recognise the rights of children and young people.
This policy context is congruent with the evidence that suggests that neglected children's unmet needs often cross disciplinary boundaries and they require an integrated response. It also builds on evidence that neglected children are best supported when their unmet needs are identified as quickly as possible and they are provided with authoritative and sustained child-centred services that support their parents, build their family and social networks and address their needs in all developmental domains (Daniel et al., 2011; Horwath, 2007; Stevenson, 2007).
Email: Philip Raines