A NEW Scottish national care service for children is being proposed by a think tank that has accused the Scottish Government of “failing children with the greatest disadvantage” with existing support.

A damning study from respected think tank Common Weal has told ministers it is "ethically unacceptable, never mind compatible to be increasing the risk of poor and inequitable outcomes for Scotland’s children".

They have set out a care plan including an unrestricted right to an integrated early years education and care (ECEC) for children and parents in Scotland.

Last month, the Scottish Government said that up to 130,000 children will be able to benefit from an expansion from 600 to 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare (ELC) each year from August.

Available to all three and four-year-olds, as well as two-years-olds who need it most, what ministers called a "flagship commitment" will save families childcare costs of around £4,900 per child each year, but it is given irrespective of income.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon's promise of 'childcare revolution' meets sceptical response

But Common Weal have said that despite public funding, the Scottish Government’s ‘free childcare’ is failing.

"Substantial resources have been directed at trying frequently with limited impact to solve problems that either need never have occurred, or need never have reached the current level of intensity and intractability," the analysis states.

"We have unacceptable inequity in our children’s wellbeing and, sadly, these poor and unequal trajectories are well embedded very early in life. This is happening despite significant investment of public funds and many projects and initiatives over the years.

"We need to call a halt to this waste of young lives and public money.

"Excuses can always be found for not doing the right thing or for putting off till tomorrow what we really should be attending to today.

"If we do not want to be facing the same or worse problems twenty, thirty or forty years down the line, we need to act now."

The analysis that links education to health, happiness and wellbeing says that all children should have a right to early childhood education on a full-time basis, from the end of the period of parental leave entitlement, or earlier if family circumstances require this. It would be free to all those on low incomes, and established with an ability to pay basis, unlike the present system.

Political governance for all early years and parenting services would be brought under a National Care Service at national level with a designated minister under a Cabinet Secretary for Care.

It suggests the introduction of parenting and child development as a part of social education in all schools “to embed the right knowledge and skills”.

And it proposed upskilling the entire early years workforce to degree-level qualification saying "there is a strong correlation" between staff skill and children’s outcomes".

Main analysis author Marion Macleod who has worked in children’s social care and education as a practitioner, planner, policy-maker and researcher said: "Falling behind in early life should not be seen as ‘the luck of the draw’. If children do not experience effective nurture and care from those responsible for looking after them – not just their families but the public institutions tasked with their support – then their prospects are compromised, in many cases even before they enter nursery."


Despite Scottish Government measures and programmes to address inequalities and ensure children can access the health care they need, a study by the Royal College of Paediatrics Child Health shows that between 2017 and 2020 there is a widening gap between the health of children from wealthy and deprived backgrounds.

Children in the most deprived areas of Scotland are at significantly higher risk of poor health outcomes and health problems, including tooth decay and being at an unhealthy weight.

The Scottish Government launched the Scottish Attainment Challenge in 2015, which aimed to close the gap between students from the most and least deprived areas. It is underpinned by a £750m funding package across the last five years.

But public spending watchdog Audit Scotland found the gap between between Scotland's poorest and richest young people in school achievement "remains wide".

It has found that progress on closing the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils is “limited” and “falls short of the Scottish government’s aims”.

Meanwhile funding for education has remained largely static, rising from £4.1bn in 2013/14 to £4.3bn in 2018/19.

The latest data from Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) showed that the attainment gap for pupils has widened despite a new grading process this year intended to address inequalities.

Pupils from the most deprived areas were more than twice as likely to have their grades fall at Higher and Advanced Higher than young people from the most affluent backgrounds.

SQA officials have accepted that the overall attainment gap had widened slightly compared with last year, but pointed out this was narrower than in 2019. The difference in attainment between those from the most deprived and most affluent backgrounds at Higher level increased by 1.9% for an A grade and 1.2% for A to C grades.

The overall Higher pass rate for the wealthiest pupils was down by 1.1%, the drop among the most disadvantaged was more than double that, at 2.5%.

In 2018/19, 94% of pupils from the least deprived areas achieved five or more awards at level 4, compared to 76.1% of pupils from the most deprived areas – a gap of 18 percentage points.

And the proportion of school leavers achieving five or more awards at level 5 was 82.7% for pupils from the least deprived areas, compared to 46.5% for school leavers from the most deprived areas – a gap of 36.2 percentage points.

The number of children being excluded from school has been linked to deprivation levels.


In 2018/19, exclusion rates for pupils living in the most deprived areas were more than four times higher than for those in the least deprived areas.

In June, the Scottish Government said that Scotland's stubborn poverty-related education attainment gap was to be tackled with a record £215m spending boost.

According to University of Strathclyde research, tracking the lives of around 14,000 children and their families, more than half of Scottish children have experienced bereavement of a close family member by the age of eight according to a new study.

And it found the risk of children from deprived households experiencing the death of a parent was five times more likely.

Common Weal says there needs to be a fix to what it called a fragmented and ad-hoc system which is very largely geared around 'fixing problems' rather than preventing them.

They say it is orientated around an "enforcement mindset" where early years services are often triggered by "someone doing something wrong" rather than working with people to do the right thing in the first place.

This means that families which show early signs of needing support do not get it until the "enforcement mindset" kicks in and then their experience of it is "negative and mistrustful".

"The cost of fixing the problems is much higher than preventing them and Scotland spends its early years resources waiting until expensive-to-fix problems emerge," it says.

The first principle of the system it proposes would be built round the rights of the child and focus on child health and development, while getting parents back to work would be secondary.

As soon as parents become aware they are going to have a child they would be paired with a healthcare professional who would remain with them as a single point of contact.

To support expectant parents with "chaotic home lives" Common Weal suggests residential support centres should be created where they can be provided with stability, wellbeing support and training.

"From start to finish the aim of this system is to keep children with their parents and make sure this can happen without compromising the child’s development. Professionals will be trained to make sure that their engagement with the parents is empathetic," the analysis says.

Scandinavian countries were the first in the world to offer families state subsidised childcare - and dates back into the last century.

In Scandinavia, access to childcare for young children is considered a formal right – with restrictions on the maximum fee level parents have to pay set by the government. In many cases, fees vary with income, with low-income families charged lower or no fees.

As a result in 2012, 67% of children under three in Denmark were in nursery – and 52% in Sweden – with the majority of them spending more than 30 hours a week there.

The think tank has previously also said that a ministerial pledge to revolutionise the care of children in Scotland is failing to match sentiment with sufficient investment and is setting a route map to failure.

The Scottish Government's The Promise aims to create a better deal for children and young people to prevent them from needing local authority care.

It is a ten-year programme that will run till 2030 to implement action points in last year's Independent Care Review aimed at tackling a "fractured, bureaucratic and unfeeling" care system, in which young people’s voices are not sufficiently heard or valued.

But the Common Weal, who studied the plans through its care working group said that "substantial and significant investment" in public services is needed to fulfil make it work, pointing out that social services departments have faced increasing demands in the face of declining investment.

Scotland's largest local government trade union Unison has also warned that while the The Promise presents an opportunity to address the "crisis" of underfunding in children's and adult services - the change programme "tries to body swerve the question of funding by focusing on service design and structural reform".

The Promise has been supported with £4m of public money in the last financial year to help organisations adapt to cultural shifts and collaboration across the across the care system. The closing date for the scheme was in March and it was expected to be extended.

Marion Macleod, author of Childcare or Caring About Children said: "Bureaucracy and administration do not protect children, strong families do, supported by effective public and community services.”

“The first few years of life are critical in setting the direction for children’s development. Scotland needs to invest far more in supporting families with young children, rather than spending millions trying to solve problems that should never have existed in the first place.”

“It is not just a case of how much the government is spending, but whether it is spending wisely. We need to look at those countries where children do best, and where inequality is much lower, and learn from their experiences.”

Amanda Burgauer, interim director of Common Weal added: "The problem with the entire way we see care in Scotland is that we wait for something to go wrong and then we try to fix it and this is incredibly inefficient. Countries who get this right see care as more than fixing failure, as offering support and development services to people so failures can be avoided."

A Scottish Government spokesman said they were committed to expanding our early learning offer to all one and two-year-olds, starting with those from low-income families, within the term of this Parliament.

"Providing access to free, high-quality early learning and childcare enriches children’s early years, providing benefits such as enriched language and social skills. It also supports parents’ ability to work, train or study.

“Young mothers are also being supported to give their children the best start in life through the Family Nurse Partnership. Under the programme, trained nurses and midwives work with eligible young mothers to build the confidence and skills they need to provide the right support for their baby. We have also increased our health visiting workforce by almost 50% since 2018, so every child can be supported by a specially trained health professional from birth and in the first few years of life.

“In addition, our Perinatal and Infant Mental health Fund provides annual funding of up to £1 million to help Third Sector organisations deliver vital services to women, young children and families.”