Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Helping Children Get the Best Start in Life Is No Soft Option

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Helping Children Get the Best Start in Life Is No Soft Option

Article excerpt


TONY Blair described Sure Start as one of New Labour's greatest achievements. But in 1998, this approach to giving children under five the best possible start in life was also revolutionary.

The non-partisan Institute of Government agrees, citing Sure Start and the minimum wage as the two most successful government policies for 30 years. Sure Start provides help and support for parents and young children in a fun, engaging and participatory way in the belief that the best chance of influencing a young person's life is before they start school.

It is shocking to realise how early the mould is cast. According to the research cited in Graham Allen's independent review of services for young children, a child's brain is more or less formed by the age of three.

A child's development at 22 months is an accurate predictor of educational outcome in later life. The opportunity to do some good, to intervene as the parlance goes, is very short indeed.

Modelled on the Head Start programme in the USA, there are over 3,000 programmes in Britain run by charities or directly by a local authority. They work with health visitors and social workers, and aim to involve parents themselves in running the children's centres.

Recently, more than 30 Sure Start groups from Tynedale descended on Shepherds Dene in Newcastle for their annual team building day.

Undaunted by 30% budget cuts last year, they were a lively and dedicated crowd, full of energy and laughter, all women, incidentally, though men are most welcome to work in their centres - and could be good roles, I suggested.

It only takes a cursory interest on my part to be invited to the centre in Hexham.

It is a small modern building and brimming full of colour, life and activity.

Hexham is one of those areas where rich and poor live side by side without quite realising it.

As Lesley Grieve, the manager, points out, mums and dads from all walks of life may need help and support in bringing up children. We kid ourselves in thinking that good parenting comes naturally.

It takes me back 30 years to my days as a social worker for a national charity now sadly wound up. …

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