This month we welcomed the publication of the findings from The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, a charity focused on making a difference across a number of related areas, including children’s early years experiences and development.
This report brings together the voices of parents and members of the public as they share their views on the early years and includes, but is not exclusively about, the impact of Covid –19 on the perceptions and experiences of parents and carers of the under fives.
Under five key themes, identified as “Five Big Insights”, the report highlights, among other things, parental concerns about being judged by others and also identifies parental wellbeing as being key to providing a nurturing and containing environment for their baby or small child. In relation to the Covid–19 pandemic, community support, including that of family and friends as well as close communication with educational settings, is especially noted by parents as being central to being able to cope with the demands of parenting and family life.
I think the suggestion of somewhere in the community would be a fabulous idea with spaces for parental support with children’s holistic development including health, learning and wellbeing. Sounds suspiciously like a Surestart Centre to me!
In my chapter, “Embracing levels of involvement” (in Woods 2016) I explored the careful work of leadership of a Children’s Centre in developing a high-quality community provision:
“where parents could not only understand and be involved in their children’s learning but also gain insight into how their own levels of well-being affected their children’s responsiveness and levels of involvement in the short and long term” (p91).
Here evolved a carefully co-constructed service available to all parents in a local community without favour, stigma or targeting of a pre-decided agenda. Here, teenage parents learnt about attunement to their child’s earliest communications in baby massage classes with their newborns, alongside older mums with post-natal depression and stay-at-home fathers. Here there was a well-designed tiered support system, from well-resourced and knowledgeable Information Officers (remember them?) to a family support worker who came alongside families in a more personalised way, often through home visits. Early Years staff modelled and created open sessions for all parents, including parents in the planning for the learning and development of their children and developing a culture of peer support and shared learning with sensitivity and no judgement. Here the team liaised closely with the local nurseries and Primary schools as well as with health visitors and Speech and Language Therapists to hold the whole child in mind when supporting families with their child’s learning and development.
Oops, who let all of these go to the wall?
Ten years ago one of the initial instigators of the Surestart programme, Naomi Eisenstadt, outlined the Labour government intentions behind the integration of health, education, care and social care within a community. she described the complexities of this process at a micro and macro level as she attempted to justify the extensive pruning of the programme by the coalition government due to a lack of evidence of efficacy.
I cried when my Children’s Centre was closed in 2014 and predicted that the closing of this community reservoir of wonderful resources would eventually affect the wellbeing, resilience and safety of families in our local community. The Royal Foundation’s “Five Big Insights” echo the insights of many Surestart Centre workers, leaders, families and communities over the past ten years – what a waste.