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Politicians should cherish our most important asset

Resource type: News

Early Years Organization | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

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-school education, thus ending a decade of inequity in the funding of pre-school developments.

The Early Years manifesto calls for an investment in a ‘Transformation Fund’ of £5m per year over five years to support the development of the early years workforce. There is no training and development strategy for people working with young children here in Northern Ireland, while in England and Wales, £200m was allocated for this type of development. There is a real opportunity for elected candidates to ensure that this disparity is addressed and to bring Northern Ireland in line with the UK and most of Europe, where it is now policy that adults who work with young children aged 0-6 years are trained to graduate level and remunerated appropriately for the work they do. This will improve the quality of the care and education our children receive and will reap financial and educational benefits for children throughout their lives.

The Early Years manifesto also calls for continued investment in the Sure Start initiative which we believe has been doing excellent work with young children and with families in disadvantaged areas throughout Northern Ireland. We know that Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems all have views on how Sure Start could be improved and reshaped. Given the relative infancy of the initiative in Northern Ireland, Early Years believes that any changes to Sure Start need to be based on the emerging evidence of what is working in terms of improving long term outcomes for young children here in Northern Ireland. We urge our politicians to fight for evidence based investment in Sure Start, not just policy changes for policy change sake.

The Early Years manifesto calls for a commitment to parents of young children by increasing and allowing for greater flexibility in the parental leave system. We know from international research and best practice that the first 18 months of a child’s life is of vital importance and that parents, both father and mothers, should be afforded the opportunity to spend as much time with their young children in this formative period.

And finally, the Early Years manifesto calls for a greater role for the voluntary, community and independent sectors in the delivery of early years services. At a time when funding for front line services is going to be a major political issue, we ask our politicians to recognise that the voluntary and community sector can deliver high quality, value for money and flexible solutions. The Pre-school Expansion Programme, which allows the voluntary, community and independent sectors to deliver what had been traditionally a state function, has been lauded as one of the major success stories of the current Labour administration. We would ask our politicians to use the evidence from this success story to argue for an even greater role for the voluntary and community sector.

After the second world war, when the UK was facing financial bankruptcy, politicians showed courage, vision and leadership and created the modern welfare state which despite its difficulties, is still the envy of the world. At this moment of deep economic recession and with the certainty that after the election those in power at Westminster will be faced with making swinging cuts, we in Early Years are asking our politicians to be bold, courageous and visionary for young children. Invest in them; invest in them early; invest in them well; invest in evidenced based practice, develop evidence based policies and we will all reap the economic, social, educational and moral return on this investment well beyond the life time of the new parliamentary period.

For more information:

Early Years Organization:

‘Urgent Call for Investment in Young Children’ (Early Childhood Manifesto)

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