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False dawn for a new era?

The new government consultation paper "Work and family: ideas and options for child care" which suggest ways in which child-care policy might be developed, will raise the hopes of many parents in Scotland that a new era is dawning in which they will be offered access to affordable services which meet the needs of both their children and themselves.

In the paper, the Government says that it is looking at what it can do, working with other key players, to encourage the supply of good quality affordable child care.

However, the position in Scotland may not be so hopeful. At a Children in Scotland conference (TESS last week) Lord James Douglas Hamilton confirmed that the consultation paper presents the position in England and Wales, although the policies described will apply throughout the United Kingdom. In effect, Scottish organisations are being asked to comment on policies based on the English and Welsh position and respond to a Government department which does not implement policy in Scotland.

Children in Scotland in common with many other organisations has been pressing for many years for an effective strategy which should, in our view, cover all care, education, support and play services for young children and encompass other relevant provisions such as parental leave.

Our early years advisory group (which includes representatives from a wide range of the major voluntary, statutory and private providers and policy-makers of early-years services in Scotland) drew attention to the compelling need for such a strategy, following the announcement of the new vouchers initiative.

It would be churlish not to welcome the announcement of a consultation paper which suggests that the Government has begun to take this argument on board. However, we are concerned that the scope of the review may not be wide enough to consider the full range of services and other policies which need to be examined if such a strategy is to prove effective. And we are deeply disappointed that it would appear that we are not being given the opportunity to consider policies based upon the Scottish context and the particular features which will need to be taken into account in any Scottish strategy including for example the provision of services in remote and island communities, issues of language and culture, different patterns of provision and higher levels of child poverty and family need.

On September 18, the European Commission's Network on Child care will be launching a report "Quality targets in services for young children - proposals for a ten-year action programme". It will obviously be important that any Government strategy takes account of developing European policy in this area.

CELIA CARSON National early years development officer Children in Scotland Shandwick Place Edinburgh.

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