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Politicians should cherish our most important asset

Early Years Organization

19 April 2010 - Original Source

In the run-up to the forthcoming Westminster elections, Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive of Early Years - the organisation for young children, launches her organisation's manifesto, outlining the key issues for the early years sector and calls for a continued investment in services for young children.

At no time in our history have we had so much evidence that investing well in the lives of young children and their families makes good sense. Science, including economics, all point to early childhood as a critical and sensitive period in human development. The Nobel Laureate, Prof James Heckman, confirms not only the social desirability but also the economic prudence of an investment programme, in young children and their families. His cost benefit analysis, where he found that every £1 invested yielded a return of £17, needs more so than ever to be understood and acted upon.

At a time of the worst UK recession in decades, it is important that local candidates hoping to win their seat in Westminster go to Westminster determined to make the case for continued investment in services for young children. In particular, they need to show a willingness to argue the case for a continued investment in Sure Start, the Pre-school Expansion Programme, a universal programme for Two Year Olds, an investment in the training and professional development of the early years work force and greater flexibility in the parental leave system.

If our candidates wish to continue to see the positive gains in the educational attainment, economic productivity and public health of the Northern Ireland population, they all need to campaign for the continuation and growth of investment in young children aged 0-6 years. As Northern Ireland moves slowly away from conflict and into a hopefully more peaceful and enlightened period, our youngest citizens are our society's greatest hope of finally shaking off the shackles of conflict. It's time that making children into Northern Ireland's most powerful and valued resource becomes an important issue in this election.

That's why Early Years - the organisation for young children, has just published its manifesto which urges the local candidates to see the issue of investing in young children as an important one and as an election winner.

The forthcoming Westminster elections present a real opportunity for politicians and policy makers to fully embrace a call for investment in young children which in turn will then allow all Northern Ireland politicians to champion the delivery of the long awaited 0-6 Strategy.

Early Years believes that the 0-6 strategy for Northern Ireland will provide a strategic direction for the future development of the early years sector and will provide the whole population of Northern Ireland with an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of our young children. Early Years has worked closely with all parties, politicians and policy makers in the development of this Strategy and we hope that it will map out a clear plan of action to create a high quality range of early years services that are accessible and affordable to all families and which join up care, education and family support needs.

The key demands of the Early Years manifesto call for a commitment to extend universal services for two year olds so that children in Northern Ireland will have two years free pre-school care and education. Early Years believes that there is now a real opportunity to introduce a single funding formulae for all young children receiving pre-schoo