Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shutting Children's Centres

When you've just had a baby the world can be a scary, lonely place. You have the most responsibility you've ever had in your life, with the least experience. 

For new mums with the most supportive husbands in the world, they are often still faced with nine hours a day, five days a week of being alone with a baby. Having somewhere you can go, for just half an hour a week is a godsend. So I am sad to hear that one of those lifelines where I live is to close: Warwickshire is closing its Children's Centres.

Children's Centres are small organisations that run a whole range of services to help parents with young children in their local areas. They were set up to 'improve outcomes for young children'. From breastfeeding support to first aid courses, to play sessions for babies and toddlers, and helping parents get back into work, they offer a huge range of services to their communities.

My Children's Centre and me

My new infant and I went to courses on infant first aid, introducing solid food and some play sessions. We also went to baby massage, which sounds like the most bourgeois of pastimes. But actually, when you've never had a baby before sometimes a bit of help on how to touch your baby is helpful. Personally, my baby wasn't really into it - she liked watching the other babies getting massages but didn't really want to be messed with. But for less opinionated infants, massage can help sleep, help their digestion, improve circulation and ease teething pain. It's a great tool to equip their parents to look after them.

Photo by Katherine via Flickr Creative Commons

The best thing my children's centre did for me was counselling. I was struggling to come to terms with the end of my marriage, being single and being a lone parent. It was a tough time and post-natal depression was pretty inevitable. On maternity pay with no second income, I didn't have the money to pay for counselling. But the Children's Centre ran a scheme of offering a set number of counselling sessions to people who they assessed as needing it. My counsellor was really wonderful. And it made a huge difference to me to have window of time every week when I stopped being weighed down by my situation and preoccupied by my baby and could talk through my feelings about the situation head-on with someone who was detached from me and my life. She made me better able to cope with everything that was happening, and as a result I was a better mum, which is what children's centres were set up to do.

Having a baby is wonderful, amazing and exciting, but it can also be an isolating and lonely experience, particularly if you don't know other people in your position. Other things are available, outside children's centres, but a lot of those are paid activities which are less available to single parents or families on lower incomes. Sessions run at children's centres were generally free.

Losing children's centres

It's not just about taking away massage classes for yummy mummies. It's about providing a community hub for parents and young children, giving them services they will benefit from, providing information they need about the kinds of issues that affect young families, and bringing them into contact with each other.

Without Children's Centres, routine queries about babies' wellbeing will be pushed back to the NHS, which will not be without cost. Parents have lost a major avenue to help them become better parents, by assisting with the all-important feeding issues, and monitoring infant weight gain. I don't know, but suspect that the staff working at Children's Centres are adept at spotting children who might have issues and therefore needed a bit of support. Are these children more like to fall through the cracks now?

It doesn't affect me. I had my baby. She did well and I haven't been near a Children's Centre since I went back to work. But my local centres made a big difference to me and I'm shocked that new parents will no longer have this.

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