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Giving children the best possible start to life

The physical, emotional and psychological development that a child undergoes by the time they are five will shape the rest of their lives – everything from their health to their educational attainment. Common Weal has published two landmark reports on how to give children the best possible start to life.

The first was the result of the Scottish Government announcing a major expansion in childcare. It examined the policy and asked how to make this not just ‘the most’ childcare but ‘the best’ childcare. Among many things it proposed were that the staff in nurseries should all be educated to degree level in child development (because this has been shown to produce by far the best outcomes), that childcare should be delivered by the public sector because it does it better and that there would need to be substantial investment in new nurseries and more staff if quality was not to decrease.

With that foundation, Common Weal published another report setting out a groundbreaking model for an integrated early years service (part of our work on a National Care Service). This would abolish the messy patchwork of services and initiatives that we have in Scotland just now and replace it with a properly-integrated system that starts before conception and works all the way through until the child starts formal education. That wouldn’t be until the child was seven with an exploration and play-based kindergarten stage introduced in between. Supporting parents and giving them education and training is key because the goal is to keep families together and provide the child with secure attachment to a primary care giver. Taking families into residential support services is much preferable to taking a child into care. There is much more to this system but one overriding message – Scotland already spends enough to create this world-class service but instead of spending to get it right from the beginning that money is being spent to mop up the failures of unsupported parents often living in poverty or with chaotic lifestyles.

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