(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)
#12 - Children's Centres
First of all, an acknowledgement that Children's Centres are actually a nationwide phenomenon, established as a consequence of Labour's Green Paper Every Child Matters which followed the death of Victoria Climbie. However, it's naturally only the local Centres that I've experienced, and the local focus will become apparent.
Since April, Jen and now I have been regular visitors to the North Abingdon, South Abingdon and Wootton Children's Centres, which play host to a variety of different activities for babies, toddlers and young children (play sessions, music groups, craft sessions etc) for a suggested donation of £1. However, they're arguably even more beneficial for parents, as the venues for ante-natal classes and, after birth, somewhere to go just to get out of the house, where friendly staff are always on hand to make a cup of coffee, lend a listening ear and offer advice and support.
Personally speaking, beyond the activities and the ante-natal classes, the help we've received has been tremendous. The fact that Jen is still breastfeeding at seven months is largely thanks to the support groups and drop-in sessions she's attended. Like many others in this part of the country, we've moved for work and live at some distance from family - something that becomes more acutely problematic when you have children. While the Children's Centres don't offer free childcare facilities, they do help to give some of the support that family might otherwise provide.
And so it's deeply concerning that the council have reportedly earmarked 37 of the county's 44 Children's Centres for closure. Cuts to local services generally are inevitable, but, having witnessed the work of these Centres first hand, I'd regard it as a genuine tragedy and travesty if most of them were to be closed, and would hate to think what might happen to mothers suffering from post-natal depression if they were.
David Cameron has pledged his backing for the Children's Centres - though this was when he was accosted on the streets of Chipping Norton by protestors, and it doesn't really count for much anyway as the council, while Tory, is independent from central government. So it essentially comes down to people power, and the hope that the case for the Centres is made to the council with sufficient force by those who currently and have previously benefited from the vital services they provide.