Monday, 30 May 2011

Sure Start Chops Start

Hampshire County Council has just confirmed huge cuts to their Sure Start Centres budget.  No closures at this time, but massive cuts to spending.  Other councils are bound to follow suit.
I understand that a lot of people think they are a good place to start saving council money, but they do provide an invaluable service to those that need them.  Mummy and I are firmly in the “Support Sure Start” camp.
That comes despite plenty of heated debate, and calls for middle class families to be banned from them.  We would fall under the middle class bracket, and to be honest, we’re proud of that.  Mummy and Daddy both have good jobs and they work hard to make sure Big Sister and I have happy, fulfilling days.  I don’t think class has anything to do with income, post code, bank balance – it’s all about attitudes.
And for me, that’s where these issues arise.  Middle class women are often used to getting out and doing things for themselves.  They’ve had to be independent, and they don’t expect to be handed things on a plate.  It matters not a jot whether you buy your groceries in Waitrose or Asda, but it’s whether you have chicken breasts or Turkey Twizzlers in your basket that gives you away!
When they were set up, the Sure Start centres were intended to focus on the poorest parents, though the middle classes would be allowed to access the services provided.  And that’s exactly where the problems began.  On seeing the positive pregnancy test, the middle class woman probably booked herself onto antenatal classes, researched pregnancy and childbirth, and started planning the future for her new family, while others thought about giving up fags and booze for a while, then forgot about it.
If the object is to target “solely the disadvantaged,” then the centres are probably not the best solution – again, I’ll remind you that I think this has nothing to do with material wealth, but the truly disadvantaged child will be the one whose mother can’t be arsed to get up off the sofa and get the two of them to the centre.  If they do, the target mummies have probably left it so late that the classes are booked up, and they then whine about the middle class mummies who knew about the sessions when they were first advertised and reserved their places then.
When Mummy and I started going, it was to get us out of the house.  We went to a weighing session (me, not her!) and it gave Mummy a time to aim for to be out of the house.  An appointment to keep.  I don’t think many people would consider my mummy vulnerable, but without her goals, like having something in the diary at least 4 days a week (the weigh-in was one),she might easily have become withdrawn and possibly even depressed.  But no-one would have known, because she wouldn’t have been visiting the centre.
I think that is my primary point.  Are we suggesting that no middle class mummies get post-natal depression or need help with parenting skills?  Or that middle class babies never have learning or development difficulties? That’s a relief, Mummy will be pleased!

We didn’t use the centre all that long but it did give us a chance to meet other people. For a while, we were going just because no-one else was and we wanted to make sure the centre didn’t close through lack of interest.  If you start making them available only to those who are “really poor,” or “really at risk,” then no-one will go – who is willing to put their hand up and say, “Yes, that’s me!” or allow that label to be put on their child so soon?  I hope "They" are thinking about that.

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