On the 19th July Scotland’s new permanent secretary Sir Peter Housden, accompanied by Dr Harry Burns, visited First Step in Musselburgh to speak to a range of people involved in using or providing early years services.
After a tour of First Steps facilities staff, volunteers and services users took part in a discussion facilitated by Susan Deacon about some of the challenges to, as well as the supports for, early years in East and Midlothian.
Many issues were brought up in the short period that was available for discussion – but what heartened me was the tremendous positive energy there was in the room ( no doubt contributed to by the wonderful home baking provided by First Step) This energy and enthusiasm for what a difference early intervention can make was there despite the awareness of the challenges faced by parents and children in some of our communities, and of the funding issues faced by statutory and voluntary services.
The other issue that chimed for me was the importance of services not stigmatising their users and the importance of the community seeing a service that is something anyone can access when the need is there. I was reminded of a rather ugly phrase use by Sir Micheal Marmott – ‘proportionate universalism’ – services that are universal but provided in proportion to the need. The universalism of a service prevents it from being stigmatised, but it makes no sense to provide universal services equally, because need is not distributed equally. First Step is respected within its community because of the hard work and dedication of its staff – but also, I think, because it has that element of a universal service with additional support built in to address more complex or enhanced need.