AN investment of more than £8 million is to be used to help stop children going into care and improve support for young families.
Strengthening antenatal and early years services, particularly for vulnerable children and families, are among the council’s plans, which also include improving early access to antenatal services to support mothers-to-be to breastfeed, improve maternal and infant nutrition, and reduce harm from smoking, alcohol and drugs.
The council also intends to increase the number of foster carers in the city by 150 over the next five years.
The money has come from the Early Years and Early Intervention Change Fund, established by the Scottish Government in April, with the city council committing £8.6 million to the fund over the next three years and the government contributing £117,000 per year over the same period.
The Scottish Government funding will be used specifically for two-year-olds in care.
Reducing the need for children and young people to go into care is a key objective, as well as improving support for youngsters looked after at home. There are currently around 400 children and young people in Edinburgh who are looked after at home, which means they are subject to compulsory care measures but still live in the care of their family.
In a report to councillors, the city council’s director of children and families, Gillian Tee, said: “The fund represents the Scottish Government, local government and NHS Scotland’s intention to shift resources to where they make the most difference in the longer term, by supporting prevention and early intervention.”
She added that there continued to be a “significant increase” in the number of children under five in care, especially those under one, including babies taken into care at birth.
Children are currently entitled to 475 hours of pre-school education in the term following their third birthday. This will increase to 600 hours per year from August 2014 under the plans.
NHS Lothian also plans to implement a health visitor assessment in September for 7000 toddlers in Edinburgh aged 24-30 months, which will include speech and communication skills, nutrition, growth and weight, as well as vision, hearing and physical activity.
It is anticipated that around 10 per cent of children assessed may require “follow-up intervention”.
City education leader Paul Godzik said: “I think it’s absolutely vital that we look after the most vulnerable children in our society, and as a council we are determined to focus funding towards early intervention.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government added: “We want our children to have the best start in life so have continued to prioritise spend in the early years.”
‘They need to treat us as professionals’
HUSBAND and wife Paddy and Toni Welsh, who live in Balerno, have been foster carers for 22 years and recently watched one of the children previously in their care graduate from Strathclyde University.
Mrs Welsh, 63, a part-time home help, welcomed the council’s plans to invest in foster care and increase the number of foster carers in the city. She said: “They really do need to because there are more and more agencies taking over fostering now. The council have to invest more money into it and treat us as professionals.”
The couple have fostered almost 20 boys over the years. Mrs Welsh, a mother-of-one, added: “The most rewarding thing is to see them leave here on a positive note and go on to make something of their lives.”