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Promise of better support in the early years

The first minister this week launched the SNP's early years framework, promising better support and identification of vulnerable mothers-to-be.

On a visit to Greengables Family Centre in Edinburgh, Alex Salmond said the new focus would be on early steps to break cycles of inequality, deprivation and ill-health. This should bring an end to the "culture of crisis management and coping", he said.

The policy will mean that resources for early years intervention are given priority across local government, the health service and the entire public sector. But it comes with a warning that many of the benefits will only become apparent over the course of a generation.

In their first joint policy statement, the Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said they would manage the transition very carefully to ensure it was deliverable and affordable. The framework is the first example of joint policy development between local and national government, following its concordat last year.

The joint statement emphasises that early intervention does not mean "interference by the state at national or local level".

"It is about moving from intervening when a crisis happens towards prevention, building resilience and providing the right level of support before problems materialise," it says.

The framework, covering pre-conception, pregnancy, birth and up to the age of 8, will see a focus on:

- helping young and vulnerable pregnant women plan for motherhood, identifying risks early, putting intensive support in place and promoting health messages;

- more integrated childcare services that are easier for parents and provide continuity of care for children;

- promoting the strengthening of parenting capacity as a core function of health, education and social care services to build resilience among families; and

- promoting a change in social attitude towards young people and encouraging communities to foster positive opportunities for them.

Models for the policy have included successful family centres catering for children aged 0-5, such as the Cowgate Under-5s Centre in Edinburgh, which this week gained one of the best ever inspection reports from the Care Commission and HMIE.

Other initiatives that have informed the creation of the framework include a nurse-family partnership, known as the Olds Model, which was developed in Colorado and involves home visits over two-and-a-half years by nurses to low-income, first-time parents and their children.

The Starting Well project for early years ran in Scotland from 2005-06 and focused on intensive home-visiting support from a team of health visitors, lay health support workers, nursery nurses and a bilingual worker.

The Triple P - Positive Parenting Programme - is a family intervention model developed in Australia which is used by a number of public agencies in Scotland.

The Dundee Families Project offers support to families who have lost or are about to lose their tenancy, due to anti-social behaviour. It has recently extended to Aberdeen.

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