THE IMPORTANCE OF SURE START
The foundation of the Christian Socialist Movement is the progression of global social justice and the eradication of poverty wherever in the world it sees it, particularly where is impacts on children and families. As a relatively new member of CSM and an experienced Labour Councillor serving a community with higher than average levels of unemployment, benefit dependency, teenage pregnancy and lone parents, I have seen the manifestation of this aspiration for social justice close to home, in the form of Labour’s Sure Start Children’s Centres. Labour introduced these one-stop-shop type facilities to close the gap in outcomes between children aged 0 – 5, living in poverty and the wider child population.
For parents, they serve to increase their employment opportunities, ensuring a better standard of life for their families and strengthening the family and the community. For communities, they exist to support a society with less crime, a stronger labour market, higher productivity and the building of a civic society. Children’s Centres offer families a wider range of integrated and accessible services through multi-disciplinary teams of professionals, to meet the aims of the ‘’Every Child Matters’’ i.e. being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and economic well being.
The Children’s Centre in my own ward offers a range of over 20 services that engage with parents and children to build family confidence and, in an area in which there are also high levels of childhood obesity, this includes healthy lifestyle guidance. Currently, the Centre is managed by a total of 13 staff employed by the Local Authority – Dudley MBC. However under the Coalition government, the future of Sure Start Centres and the jobs of the professionals employed to run them, is uncertain. The government has said it is committed to Children’s Centres but wants to focus them more effectively on families who need them most. However, certainly in the case of my own Children’s Centre, it is these priority families who are accessing the services, and with pro-active outreach taking place, new families are being registered all the time. From the 149 families, which were registered in the first six months of the Centre opening in 2007, in 2011, over 500 families are registered – which represents 64% of families within the reach area.
While the Tory controlled Dudley MBC has committed to funding the Children Centres for the next 12 months, many other centres across the country are closing or in the process of closing. For those that survive, reading between the lines of Cameron’s Big Society, we may see more contracting out to community and voluntary organisations, which raises questions about the future of paid professionals- including health and social workers, and educationalists from a range of settings - who make such a huge contribution to the effectiveness of the service.
My Children’s Centre is currently running a campaign inviting families and others who care about the future of this provision to sign a petition endorsing Children’s Centres. It’s a small step in getting the Coalition and Councils to reflect on the views of those who are elected to represent them. But it can be boosted by the support of the Christian Socialist Movement – so in the best traditions of our faith- please also support this campaign.
(Author: Cllr Judy Foster
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