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A cross-party group of MPs is calling on children’s centres to encourage parents to speak to their baby affectionately and help them overcome any shyness or embarrassment about doing so, particularly in public.
A report by the All Party Parliamentary Sure Start Group, ‘Best practice for a Sure Start: The way forward for Children’s Centres’ has put forward a series of recommendations for children’s centres.
These recommendations are intended to improve the relationship between the parent and child which has a huge effect on the child’s development.
These include children’s centres getting parents at ‘stay and play’ sessions to praise their children and also hosting singing and story sessions encouraging parents to sing with their children and promoting the benefits of reading.
Antenatal and postnatal groups in centres should encourage parents to speak to their baby, particularly in affectionate tones, despite the fact that they are not yet able to reply. They should help parents overcome any sense of shyness or embarrassment about doing so, particularly in public, said the report.
It also called for children’s centres to encourage dads to take up an active role in their baby or child’s life, particularly in communicating with them. Children’s centres should approach the father as an equal partner in parenting who has a key role to play in supporting their child’s development.
The group of MPs, which were led by Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom and Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, also found that failure to combine health and children’s centre budgets is damaging support for families. The MPs claim that in order to maintain services in tough times, children’s centres, antenatal and postnatal services must pool budgets and work together more closely.
The report is based on evidence collected during a year-long Parliamentary inquiry. The report calls for midwifery, health visiting and children’s centre services to be delivered under one roof or where physical building space is not available, services should be delivered in an entirely seamless way and provided as a single service. Chair of the APPG, Andrea Leadsom MP said: “Whitehall Departments have got to stop operating in silos; they must see that through joined up working they could save significant amounts of money. Pooling the budgets of midwives, health visitors and children’s centres would achieve just that. It would also have the important side effect of encouraging data sharing between practitioners – something which is key to supporting new families, but all too often is not happening.”
Vice chair Sharon Hodgson MP added: “What we've heard during this inquiry is that children's centres work best when they bring together all the professionals and programmes which a family might come into contact with in the early years, and work hard to bring all families in their area into the centre. There are some great examples of this across the country, but also too many areas where it still isn't happening, so the Government needs to take the lead on ensuring that it does.”
National charity 4Children provides the secretariat for the APPG. Its chief executive, Anne Longfield also called for local services “to be delivered in a joined up way to make the best use of public resources and provide families with the help they need to flourish”.
She said: “In many areas children’s centres have become central to providing support to families across the country and are developing into real hubs where parents can access early education, family support and health services. However where health in particular are not located within children’s centres it is a waste of public money and puts centres at risk of closure.”
Over the last few years, hundreds of children's centres have closed or been threatened with closure due to cuts in funding.