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Integrated Strategy for the Early Years

A Consultation Paper

Unison Scotland's response to the Scottish Executive's Consultation Paper for an Integrated Strategy for the Early Years

June 2003

Executive Summary

  • UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Executive's Consultation Paper on an Integrated Strategy for the Early Years.
  • UNISON Scotland acknowledges the importance of improving services offered to parents of children in their early years.
  • We agree that it is necessary to enable all children to reach their full potential and to close the opportunity gap.
  • We support the proposal for "joined-up" working across Early Years services.
  • UNISON Scotland's main concern is that the quality of public services will be weakened by concentrating on targeted initiatives.
  • We require further clarity on how Executive funding in the sector will change and how these changes will create greater coherence in Early Years services.

Introduction

UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing 150,000 members working in the public sector. We are the largest trade union in local government, with over 98,000 members working in Scottish Local Government. UNISON Scotland represents childcare workers in local authorities, private and voluntary sectors, members working in early years establishments as nursery nurses, support workers within nurseries and crèches; residential care workers, welfare rights workers, and members working in social services caring for children such as social workers, support staff, the health service and higher education throughout Scotland. For these reasons, issues relating to services provided for children from pre-birth to 5 are of interest to UNISON. We agree that there needs to be an Integrated Strategy for the Early Years. We are concerned however, that the Executive's proposals in the consultation paper do not go far enough to provide the necessary services that children and families require.

UNISON is anxious to represent the views of our members who provide services for families, particularly given the problems in recruitment, retention, job status and pay in these fields, along with the increasing pressures facing public sector workers in Scotland.

We welcome the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Executive's Consultation Paper for an Integrated Strategy for the Early Years. Clearly the services provided to families are important. UNISON as a whole represents nearly one million working women. About 70% of UNISON members live in households with pre-school or school age children. UNISON has consistently campaigned for:

  • a mixture of high quality care and education for all children from birth to school age;

  • childcare provided by trained and valued staff;

  • provision which suits the working lives and pockets of UNISON members and all parents.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Consultation Paper on an Integrated Strategy for the Early Years.

Response

Unison Scotland agrees that major improvements are needed in the services for children and their families from pre-birth to age 5 in order to achieve a socially inclusive society. Too many children are disadvantaged from an early age, and in many cases can never make up their disadvantages. A proper strategy for children and families in their early years is an important public service, and one we cannot afford to get wrong. A solid programme for Early Years Services should provide the building blocks for a strong and healthy future for Scotland's citizens. The newly elected Executive has an ideal opportunity to create these foundations now. UNISON Scotland recommends focussing on proper preventative measures now, in the hope that there will be less of a need for policies on youth crime and bad behaviour at school later.

1. Funding

We fully support the Executive's intention to create "joined-up" working between the different children's services, including local authority social work and education departments, the NHS, and the voluntary sector. However we cannot respond fully to the Consultation Paper before we receive further clarity on the funding arrangements. What changes will be made to the present funding in order to accommodate the Executive's Integrated Early Years services delivery? The consultation paper mentions that,

"significant resources are being invested in the range of early years services and under the Scottish Budget 2003-2006 these are set to rise further".

Certainly we have noted that some services have had better funding than others depending on national and local initiatives. We would expect that a better planned and more integrated strategy would redress the balance and save time spent on accessing bureaucratic systems. For example, transport funding has always been a problem with Sure Start. Other problems with inter-agency practices (point 15) have been transport, local services, training and the exchange of relevant information whilst maintaining confidentiality. We agree with the aims listed in point 16 regarding "joint working", although it is not clear how this could be put into practice across the whole country. What strategies will be put into place in order to encourage all the agencies involved in protection work to sign up?

2. Targeted Initiatives

The Executive's strategy intends to build on current policies such as Sure Start Scotland, the Childcare Strategy and Starting Well in order to promote an integrated approach to local needs assessment, service planning, commissioning and funding. Targeted initiatives may be useful in solving urgent crisis in the short term, however this is not a long term solution. We do not believe that these initiatives are enough to protect so many vulnerable children and their families.

UNISON Scotland acknowledges the need for setting clear aims and objectives and ensuring proper monitoring is in place. We are concerned however, that the Strategy for Early Years should not be driven by pre-set targets, in order to satisfy political objectives. Rather they should have an overall aim of improving the often tragic predicament in which many children and families find themselves. UNISON Scotland recommends that a well laid-out plan for the Early Years should serve all children and families on a fair and equal basis, not only the families that are included in the government's targeted initiatives.

UNISON Scotland acknowledges the need to draw together many of the Executive's related policies in order to improve communication between the different services. This would mean better communication and services for parents and children. In principle we agree with the proposal to improve communication between health, education, childcare and social services care. However we believe that the objectives proposed by the Executive sideline the main issue of addressing the real problems of recruitment, retention, pay, training and the funding needed to rectify these problems.

3. Process of Achieving Aims and Objectives

UNISON agrees that it is necessary to have aims and objectives in order to close the opportunities gap for children and parents, particularly the most vulnerable. The Executive's aims include improving children's health, social and emotional development, giving them the ability to learn, strengthening families and communities and reducing barriers to employment for parents. However we are concerned about the method of achieving these improvements. Outcomes for local partners would help focus services but who would determine individual needs and would they have knowledge of users? Supporting joint planning, commissioning and single system service delivery of Early Years services in local authorities, NHS Boards and Trusts sounds positive, but how are the standards that will be expected by different sectors going to be addressed? Will there be an independent person or body carrying out the monitoring and regulation? We also question whether the NHS Performance Assessment Framework and commissioned research will be able to monitor and evaluate Services plans.

4. Workforce Issues

UNISON Scotland believes that the reason children's care is not working is that public services are inadequately funded. Diverting resources is not a solution. Children fall through the net because there are not the necessary services and staff to deal with all the problems. We therefore welcome the Consultation's incorporation to;

  • "Increase the number of qualified workers;

  • Expand the workforce and widen opportunities for training;

  • Encourage both progression up the career ladder, and also lateral movement across the early years and childcare sector as a whole;

  • Encourage diversity among the workforce that better reflects society."

Again, we would not be able to fully respond to the Consultation Paper without further clarification on this aspect of the Early Years programme. Workforce issues should be dealt with first and foremost before we could consider this to be a truly Integrated Strategy.

Social workers, health workers, childcare and nursery nurses are some of the lowest paid and overworked public sector workers. They often have to work unsociable hours, putting a strain on their own work-life balance. Many frontline public sector workers are inadequately protected from violence at work. This cannot continue. The government has a responsibility to protect these workers. Local authorities need to be adequately funded in order to fulfil their responsibilities under Section 19 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. We believe that an Integrated Strategy for Early Years could only be put into practice with adequate funds and with a properly paid and trained workforce.

4.1 Childcare

UNISON Scotland fully supports free universal childcare, education, social and health care. The government's policy is to provide free social and health care, although these services are not adequately funded. It is not however, government policy to provide universal full-time childcare for all ages. We recommend the provision of full-time childcare for all ages from 0+. The existing Executive provision of part-time, free pre-school education for all 3 and 4 year olds is helpful, but inadequate. The current split between early education (in schools) and care (mainly by the private and voluntary sector) means that multiple arrangements are necessary every day. The availability of part-time places in nursery classes means that working parents must still rely on childminders in addition to nursery school. This is disruptive for children and the combination of childcare arrangements can be volatile and difficult. Many European countries have more extensive public provision for the early years sector, spending three or four times more than the UK. In Sweden and France the early years system is an almost universal public service and in Finland every child has the right to a childcare place from birth, with highly qualified educators.

4.2 Issues for Parents

Part-time workers face particular difficulties in organising childcare arrangements. Nursery classes rarely coincide with the working time of part-time workers, particularly if they work irregular hours. Day nurseries charge the full price, even when only a part-time place is needed. All of the above problems would be solved if there were sufficient publicly funded centres for children from birth to compulsory school age, staffed by qualified early education and care workers. This could then be supplemented by private provision. But real choice is only possible if both private and public provisions are options.

4.3 Frontline Staff

The high quality care that working parents want and society needs can only be provided by properly trained staff. We believe that key workers should be fully involved in devising service provision and should be backed up with adequate resources and support. There are currently real problems in recruitment and retention particularly in social work departments.

4.4 Nursery Nurses

Childcare workers are undervalued. The value that society places on the work that professional childcarers provide is likely to affect their self-esteem. Sufficient pay for properly qualified staff is essential to achieve the high standards needed in childcare and early education. In schools, pay levels of nursery nurses are very low in comparison with the rest of the teaching team, even after many years' experience. Although, increasingly, their work is becoming similar. Nursery nurses are expected to carry out more teaching duties, including literacy and numeracy hours. They are involved in planning, assessing and record keeping. It is not uncommon for nursery nurses to actually run nurseries without a teacher in charge. Their professionalism and their high responsibility for the care and development of young children should be reflected in better rates of pay. This is the only way to retain this highly motivated group of staff. The right kind of people can only be recruited and retained if the pay in the sector improves. Currently nursery nurses have a Scottish grade which has not been reviewed for 15 years. They are amongst the lowest paid of council staff, starting at £10,000 a year and rising to £13,300 after eight years. That is poverty pay for a demanding and responsible job.

4.5 Social Workers

Staff from qualified social workers to social work assistants are also facing many problems including large numbers of vacancies, increased stress and reducing support. These lead to problems of lack of back-up, increasing risks of violence, insufficient training time, and increased pressure on unqualified staff. Pay is a key issue in addressing such problems, but not the only one. UNISON Scotland calls for a full-scale review of this sector.

We believe that continuity of worker is important in this area of early years care so that vulnerable children can build up a relationship with their key worker. This underlines the need to ensure staff are valued and supported, and receive decent pay and training. Continuity of staff will only be achieved where employees are contented and supported in their roles, so that staff turnover and illness can be minimised.

Conclusion

UNISON Scotland welcomes the intentions of the Executive's Integrated Strategy for the Early Years. We agree that services for Early Years need to be improved. Children should be given every opportunity to lead safe, happy, healthy lives. These opportunities are especially important for children who start with reduced life chances. Staff working in the Early Years sector should also have every opportunity for fair pay and conditions. We believe that the Executive should review the pay and conditions of workers in this field. Nursery nurses' grading has not been reviewed for 15 years. Workforce issues for all categories of staff must also be addressed before we could consider this to be an Integrated Strategy. There are serious problems that are being ignored in the public sector in relation to recruitment, retention, pay and training and workplace violence.

We agree with of the Executive's proposal that the relevant organisations in the Early Years sector work together towards a set of common outcomes. UNISON Scotland acknowledges the importance of the Executive's objectives, including improving children's health, social and emotional development, improving their ability to learn and reducing barriers to employment for parents. We are concerned however, that by concentrating on targeted initiatives, the quality of our public services is weakened. By diverting resources in order to achieve certain targets, other vulnerable groups lose out. Funding ends up going towards the management of initiatives, rather than focussing on frontline staff. UNISON Scotland believes that workforce issues must be the primary focus in order to succeed in a truly Integrated Strategy for Early Years and all years.

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISONScotland
UNISON House
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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