A new generation of centres should be created to support children and families, according to a report on how to improve children's early years in Scotland.
Joining the Dots: A Better Start for Scotland's Children proposes that the new centres would be created through joint ventures between local communities and private, public and not-for-profit organisations.
The report, written by former Scottish health minister Susan Deacon and commissioned by Education Secretary Michael Russell, envisages the centres as being part of a national "common sense" consensus on the importance of the early years.
Professor Deacon, honorary professor of Edinburgh University's School of Social and Political Science, told TESS that outreach work should be at the heart of the centres.
"If you have well-developed facilities rooted in the local community with good outreach, that is one of the ways you can cross the threshold into the homes of families that would most benefit," she said.
Lessons could be learned from the model of the Sure Start programme in England, Professor Deacon said, but the new centres would need to "reflect the evolution in thinking about the early years over more than a decade of devolution".
Among a range of recommendations, the report also calls for a "commitment to prevention and to early years in national policy thinking and public investment - with consideration to be given to enshrining this in law".
"There needs to be some element of statutory provision that underpins a priority around early years specifically, but prevention and preventative spend more generally," Professor Deacon said.
She also called for greater recognition of the importance of intervening more quickly when a child is at severe risk of abuse and neglect during the early years of life.
However, a balance needed to be struck between a "top-down, prescriptive approach" to the early years and measures from central government that had the effect of "locking up innovation and creativity" at a local level, she said.
On the issue of training for the early years workforce, Professor Deacon emphasised the contribution parents, volunteers and non-professionally qualified staff could make. "Professionals matter, but you don't need a university degree to help a child learn and develop," she said.
Children's minister Adam Ingram welcomed the report. Its focus on creating a "bias for action" on the early years would help "accelerate the aims of the joint Scottish GovernmentCosla Early Years Framework" and he praised its call for a change in attitudes, behaviours and culture to make Scotland a better place for children and families.
- set up "a new generation" of children and family centres across Scotland;
- build a "common sense consensus" on how important children's early years are to an individual, society and the economy;
- establish the urgency - and the financial and moral imperative - to place a renewed focus on improving children's early years;
- embed a commitment to prevention and to early years in national policy thinking and investment - with consideration given to enshrining this in law;
- place renewed emphasis on the importance of effective parenting;
- encourage wider involvement of volunteers, parents, business and the third sector;
- instigate a radical programme of simplification and work to de-clutter the policy landscape;
- recognise the importance of intervening more quickly when a child is at severe risk of abuse and neglect during the early years of life;
- set up a national early years alliance, drawn from across all sectors.