Yesterday I participated in a seminar in Parliament organised by the Finance Committee on preventative spending. They produced an innovative report that identified investment in public services that would result in long term savings and tackle some of Scotland's most intractable social problems.
The focus was on early years interventions. Suzanne Zeedyk from Dundee University's Department of Neuro Science explained how 90% of brain mass is determined by age 3. The brain is driven by emotions not behaviours therefore how we relate to babies is crucial to child development. Alan Sinclair from the Work Foundation reinforced this message by pointing out that a series of apparently intractable problems are actually all the same. It's how we bring up babies.
This means that preventative spending on early years will pay big dividends in the medium to long term. Intensive support to teenage mums, family centres, health visitors and continuity in fostering and adoption are all crucial. There is strong evidence from Finland and Holland to show that this approach works. In those countries there is cross party support for this approach. Depressingly, in the USA the Republicans want to cut nutritional subsidies to babies.
The challenge of course is how you join up services to focus scarce resources on this key group. Not to mention shifting cash from existing services. My only reservation about the debate is that there was insufficient emphasis on the importance of reducing inequality. Poor family relationships are often driven by poverty. It is not an accident that more equal societies do better on every measure.