The Holyrood baby - a report card on the third year
The Holyrood baby was conceived to shine a light on legislation, policy and initiatives that impact on the prevention and early years agenda. So, what has Kirsty’s third year brought, and how have our lawmakers fared?
This flagship policy could have seen Kirsty benefitting from nursery-based learning for a year, but the places for eligible two-year-olds is still seeing a low uptake.
Kirsty will start nursery this year, where she will get her Bookbug Explorer Bag to encourage both her and Caley to enjoy books.
Whether Kirsty is entitled to 1,140 hours of free hours of early learning will depend where she lives. Some local authorities are trying out the scheme, which will be rolled out in full by August 2020 – nearly double the current allowance. Some of this provision may be provided by a childminder.
Meanwhile, the capital work for upgrading and expanding the early learning infrastructure is falling behind schedule. A recent answer to a written question by the Scottish Conservatives revealed only 97 nurseries have been built, expanded, or refurbished against a target of 750 nurseries by 2021.
The new devolved social security system has been launched with benefits relevant to Kirsty. Caley has obviously missed out on the £600 Sure Start maternity grant but she will be entitled to claim the £250 Best Start Grant early learning payment, launched in April, when Kirsty starts nursery, and a further £250 when she starts school.
In November, the Scottish Government launched the new Financial Health Check service at Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country. If Caley can access this service it could support her to claim what she is entitled to, something she has failed to do so far.
Universal Credit will continue to dominate Caley’s financial situation, however. Critics of the single benefit system are growing, and there is a slim chance Caley could picked in one of the trials of a universal basic income happening in Scotland. Proponents of the idea say it could have a transformative impact, but it is largely untested.
Caley is unlikely to benefit from a £50m cash boost for perinatal and infant mental health announced in March, but the pledge to improve new service models will hopefully prevent other cases.
Concerns over Kirsty’s development have been flagged up at the 27-30 month review, part of the Scottish Government’s universal health visiting service.
However, whether there is enough provision to support Caley through what needs to happen next will depend on services working together and whether local third sector organisations have escaped cuts in local authority funding.
Although it hasn’t been relevant to Kirsty yet, John Finnie’s equal protection bill will provide her with the right to avoid violence in the home, ahead of a whole load of new rights for children being introduced via the incorporation of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law.
Next April the new Public Health Scotland agency will be launched, hopefully giving more powers to those tackling health inequalities by funding preventative measures.
Before that, health boards and local authorities will publish their first statutory reports against the targets to reduce child poverty. If these are honest, they will admit failure, as child poverty continues to rise in Scotland. Despite all the affirmative actions by our politicians, Kirsty still faces the biggest challenge of all – poverty.