During our earliest years a large part of the pattern for our future life is set. Investment in a child pays dividends in terms of health and educational outcomes and future life prospects. Investment in early support for families pays later dividends for society as a whole.This was exactly where Sure Start stepped in, aiming to ensure every child had the best start in life, initially by targeting those children and families most in need, in the most vulnerable communities and breaking the cycle of disadvantage of the poorest families. But Labour saw Sure Start as a universal service for all families with children under five and ensured it spread attracting families from all backgrounds, breaking down barriers of isolation and opportunity. Three million children attended Sure Start centres, groups and play sessions last year. Sure Start centres offered family health services, breastfeeding support, emotional support, childcare and early learning, advice on parenting and support for looking for work or training opportunities. Add in the opportunities for parents to be able to socialise, and it is clear to see they are a gem. For many it is more than that, for many Sure Start is an absolute life line.
Although a Labour initiative, Sure Start appeared to have cross party support, Coalition Children's Minister Tim Loughton said the government was "100% committed" to Sure Start.
David Cameron speaking before the election to the NCT said.. "We are strongly committed to Sure Start Children’s Centres.”
Not at all...
Funding of Sure Start through the Early Intervention Grant was cut by 11% in last year’s emergency budget, and again in the comprehensive spending review. Now the security of a ring fenced budget has been removed by the Coalition. The Department for Education says of the Early Intervention Grant “local authorities are free to decide their priorities for its use.”
The tragedy and reality is Sure Start is being decimated by cuts as councils face tough decisions. Hammersmith and Fulham Council as an example are cutting the Borough’s Sure Start budget by 45%. As a consequence Centres are being starved of funds, services are cut, relocating, merging and closing. Coalition policy is turning a much loved universal service into a shell. The cuts will affect everyone. This from a mum in west London:
“There are plans to move child health, antenatal and postnatal services including breastfeeding support to another Sure Start, so having to take a train/bus and another bus plus walk a long distance, potentially with birth injuries and older children. The reasoning? The only Sure Start centre now is in an area of deprivation so gets the funding. The original area is not although there is still clinical need and considerable evidence that early intervention in child and maternal health leads to reduced NHS costs later. This area has a higher maternal age than most and consequently an increased risk of postnatal depression, c-section rates and other factors associated with older mothers.”
Funding cuts to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) mean that in many areas primary aged children and pre schoolers with mental health problems will go without referrals, assessment, diagnosis and support as limited money available is directed towards teenagers in greatest need. Take away the early intervention here and there will be a dramatic increase in the numbers of teenagers with severe mental health problems within the next ten years. What a tragic consequence of a short sighted funding cut. My friend's daughter's anorexia started early in Year 5, I have seen first hand how early intervention is so vital, having to wait for help doesn't bear thinking about.
“Draining money from early intervention services is short-sighted, and just stores up problems for the future as young people are left without access to early help, meaning mental health problems become more serious and entrenched.”
Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive, YoungMinds
Just before Christmas I was invited to a Coffee Morning and Cake sale to raise funds for our local Portage. Cake sales? It has come to that, a service as important as Portage reduced to scratching around for funds. This is not sustainable and I fear the service lives on borrowed time. More children and families will become isolated at a time when they are feeling most bewildered, vulnerable and isolated. Portage cuts will add extra pressure on the limited pot of SEN funding, so fewer children will benefit from extra support. It is not right. Children with additional needs should get the help they require.
"What I'm angry about is that if he was waiting for NHS treatment, he'd still be waiting. If we were relying on Health Visitors to spot developmental delay we would have still been waiting. We are not proud that we went private. If he had been treated promptly with grommets or speech therapy less intervention would have been needed. It goes against all my principles to go private when we have great NHS practitioners, but I felt we had no choice here. We were lucky we had savings, I say we, I mean our son. The small amount I had put by in a savings account for him has been spent on SLT.
If he had not had the treatment he would still be struggling and his behaviour would have deteriorated further - he would have had far worse attention problems. This would have had a knock on effect at nursery and school. He would require greater assistance to communicate and would be further behind. This cannot be a good way to manage costs - spend more later by delaying intervention?"
"Ultimately, if you do not get a child reading by the time they leave primary school, by the time they arrive at secondary, the curriculum is just a closed book to them, literally."
Funding cuts to Home Start Home Start provides regular, informal and practical support to families under severe stress in their own homes. 35,000 families contacted Home Start last year seeking help. The demand is so high that the service is already over stretched. And yet, 40 Home Start groups face closure in the next 6 months, due to severe funding cuts. Struggling families and vulnerable children are being left without much needed support. The implications are bleak. My friend had tremendous support from her local Home Start worker as she came to terms with terminal cancer whilst trying to cope with four very young children including twin babies. They were a family in crisis and at complete breaking point. And guess what? Her Home Start group is one that is facing the axe.
- By helping ALL children grow up to be productive and independent.
- By improving developmental, social and educational gains for ALL children.
- By reducing the future costs of Special Educational Needs.
- By reducing costs of future health care needs.
- By reducing the stress, frustration and feelings of isolation for children and their families.