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Overview —

Growing and equal nation from the ground up.


Marion Macleod

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Few in politics and in government now dispute the central importance of getting support for children in their early years right if we want to create a wellbeing economy with healthy and productive citizens in the future. But, in reality, Scotland has a system of support for children in their early years which is a patchwork of initiatives, fixes, legacy services and omissions. What we do not have is a single, well thought- through integrated service. This is what Scotland’s children need. This report will highlight the problems in the system as it is and propose how they can be fixed and a comprehensive, integrated system introduced as part of a comprehensive, all-ages National Care Service.


This report sets out a plan for an integrated early years service for children and parents in Scotland. The following summarises what is proposed at each stage of a child’s development.

Get the policy context right

― Children’s right to a good start in life should be at the heart of policy with clear and specific entitlements reflecting the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

― Optimal child health and development should be the clear purpose of early years service provision – getting parents back to work is secondary

― Integrate governance and delivery of all early years provision from a single department or body at national level holding overall responsibility to holistic centres in all communities through local authorities

― Adapt the European social pedagogy degree for Scotland and incorporate its principles into work with young children and their families

― Upskill the entire early years workforce to degree-level qualification as there is a strong correlation between staff skill and children’s outcomes

― Emphasise secure attachment to primary care giver as central to everything the service does

― Introduce parenting and child development as a part of social education in all schools


― Invest in preconception health, education, counselling and care for all prospective parents

― Monitor family provision from first contact to make sure the home context is provided with the resources and support necessary to promote a child’s healthy development and learning

― Focus contact on relationship-building and trust not compliance and enforcement, with a single consistent point of contact throughout the early years

― Establish holistic and integrated family support centres in all communities, providing early education and care, child health advice and support, parent learning and opportunities for play and creativity

― Create residential support centres pre-birth for families with chaotic home lives, providing both stability, wellbeing support and training

― Focus on the rights of the child to a good and equitable early life experience and the role of parents as the primary protectors and safeguarders of these rights

― Ensure a generous parental leave option in both time and money

― Stress the importance of the father’s involvement and make that possible with equitable treatment


― Create an integrated system of financial social protection and high quality support services for parents and make sure this service means there are no essentials poor families cannot afford

― Services must be inclusive of all children with additional support needs of any kind

― Focus services on strengthening families so children are only taken into care as a last resort; investment in stabilising home life is more effective and sustainable

― Where taking a child into care is unavoidable minimise the disruption to that child, make the experience consistent and stable and work intensively to improve the home environment so the child can return quickly and successfully

Early childhood

― All children and parents should have the right to early childhood education and care (ECEC), on up to a full-time basis, from the end of the period of parental leave entitlement, or earlier if family circumstances require this

― Both high quality family based care and group care should be provided; promoting attachment and resilience should be the foundation of any ECEC service and this in turn should provide the foundation for a new National Care Service

― Subsidise ECEC and make the cost to parents income related, with a maximum total cost for any family and free provision for those on the lowest incomes

― The public sector must be the primary provider and outsourcing must only happen where other providers can demonstrate the same quality and effectiveness (including future attainment, confidence, risk management, resilience, pro-social behaviour, cooperation and emotional health)


― From age three, establish a kindergarten stage which emphasises play, creativity, exploration and social interaction, not formal attainment

― Children should remain in kindergarten until aged seven and commence formal education then; the school starting age should be changed to reflect this, in line with international evidence

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