Why Children’s Centres are so important [guest post]

A guest article from Paul van Heeswyk, a Consultant Child Psychotherapist, about the importance of Early Years funding and Children’s Centres.

Children’s Centres facilitate important social contact and interactions among children, their families and Children’s Centre Staff. Children’s Centres provide opportunities for play, learning and social connection for otherwise potentially isolated children and parents, and also offer opportunities for carers to share their practical and emotional difficulties with staff and to seek support. In this way, Children’s Centres ensure greater likelihood of vital early intervention in regard to infant mental health issues and make it possible for adverse childhood experiences to be identified and addressed.

Children’s Centres are, therefore, an essential universal provision that must remain accessible and non-stigmatising in order to ensure that they are felt by families to be welcoming and safe. We know that an important predictor for attendance and full participation in facilities for parents with young children is whether such facilities are within ‘buggy-pushing distance’. It takes a village to raise a child as the African proverb says. Children’s welfare is the responsibility of the whole community and we must ensure that Children’s Centres are local, nearby and are demonstrably valued by us all.

Early childhood is a time when children form attachment templates for relationships that will stay with them all their lives. It is a phase of great importance in terms of neurological development and emotional regulation but it is therefore also a time of great vulnerability when things go wrong. Levels of deprivation and trauma are very high in our population and young families need good support services to protect their mental health.

The contribution of Children’s Centres to early intervention in terms of assessment of difficulties and provision of support leads to better educational and health outcomes for our young children. However, reorganisations and cuts impact greatly on staff morale which can lead to a disruptively high turnover of staff in services where community-based continuity of relationships, support and observational oversight over time are essential.

Pre-school children do not always present with problems that are easily identified and understood at single appointments and ongoing relationships are central to good care. Staff in Children’s Services need to know how to recognise signals of distress in children and to spot when vulnerable young parents may be holding themselves together to present well to Family Doctors and Health visitors. These conditions for good professional care and attunement will only be possible where services are known to be stable by staff and families, and are not subject to constant reorganisation and cuts.

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