The events and atmosphere in Parliament this week are being compared by the Press to war time in May 1940, a time of almost unprecedented national crisis. While the United Kingdom in January 2019 may not be faced by the treat of invasion by a military force, the debacle of the fallout of the Referendum continues to be played out in Parliament, resulting in many important issues being ignored – the NHS, school funding, Universal Credit – all detrimental to the wellbeing of the nation’s children.
‘You have worked out the Price but what is the real cost to our community’ was the question posed on a banner held by a toddler in a demonstration in Norfolk this week, as Norfolk Council proposed the closure of 38 Childrens Centres, 70% of services to families with children under 5 in the county.
In 2010 the establishment of 3,500 Children’s Centres was described as one of government’s most ambitious public health initiatives in decades, but less than a decade later we have the situation in Norfolk being replicated across the country. Children’s Centres were intended as a local resource, bringing together early childhood services into the heart of a community, with a wide range of services for all families with children under five. The provision of these universal preventative services reduces the need for expensive critical services when problems have developed, for example rehabilitation of drug and alcohol abuse.
The closure of so many Children’s Centres is not good news for the under-3s or their families. The United Kingdom is experiencing an unprecedented increase in the number of people with mental health problems. We know from research that the foundations for mental and physical health are made in the first three years, from conception to age three. The vital first three years of a child’s life, when a secure attachment is achieved through consistent loving care by the primary care giver (usually the mother), continues to be ignored by Government. The first three years is the period when brain development is at its most rapid and provides a firm foundation for developing resilience and good emotional, physical and mental health for the rest of childhood and through into adulthood.
The process of Brexit is undoubtedly important for the country in terms of our global status and the economy, but there is more to a ‘good life’ in the United Kingdom. It is time governments of all political persuasions to stop the hand-wringing over the increase in knife crime, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse; and prioritise the emotional wellbeing of children with a long term, integrated policy that supports and enables families to provide children with the consistent loving care and the secure attachment they need. More and more, we are becoming aware of the importance of resilience, creativity and the capacity for self-regulation, attributes that children develop as a result of feeling secure, having consistency of care from known responsive adults, being talked to, protected, enabled to develop their skills and encouraged to explore their expanding world. (www.whataboutthechildren.org.uk)
The closure of Children’s Centres must stop and government departments, professionals and communities must come together to ensure that the ‘never-changing needs’ of our youngest children are protected.