"Benefiting from Sure Start"

About: Mansfield & Ashfield

(as a volunteer/advocate),

I’m one of those educated middle-class mums who "don't need Sure Start" according to some politicians. Hummm.

I moved to Nottinghamshire just before the birth of my second child. Kirkby-in-Ashfield Sure Start centres provided a life-line, as I struggled with the important job of mothering 2 young children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I had previously been the main source of income in our family. So once I was a full time mum we had very little disposable income - certainly not enough to be able to go to commercial toddler groups or soft play centres. Sure Start playgroups provided a sanity-saving place for me to get out of the house, meet other mums, and re-charge emotionally to engage and play with my children. My children loved the activities. Mixing with other children also helped them prepare for starting nursery at three. ALL (yes all) the staff have been welcoming, kind, supportive, open-minded and a pleasure to get to know. Without Sure Start I would have been isolated and at severe risk of depression, with the well documented negative impact that would probably have had on my children and their development.

I have also worked as a volunteer for Sure Start, as a 'Positive Contribution Lead' and as a 'Breastfeeding Peer Supporter' and have been supported throughout by Jayne.

It was interesting to be a 'Positive Contribution Lead' (a parent-representative) at multi-agency meetings, and see how passionate the staff were about supporting families with widely varying backgrounds, whilst balancing the requirements of Ofsted, and other agencies (what I personally think of as 'ticking the boxes to get the funding. ') I saw first-hand how Tina set the tone for the positive, caring and practical culture at Kirkby Sure Start centres.

As a 'Peer Supporter' I helped to set up a new group in Kirkby with Nina and another volunteer. Other staff including Sam, Rachel, Louise and Ann have worked hard to support our 'BABES' group. New volunteers have joined us, giving the group a viable future. I also helped to set up a Facebook page, giving on-line breastfeeding support and information. I have found it very rewarding to be able to offer mums practical information and support as they learn to breastfeed their baby, and perhaps choose to continue to breastfeed their toddler. Increased breastfeeding rates could save the NHS £40 million p. a (Ref Unicef) and mother-to-mother support is widely recognised (eg by WHO) as an effective method of increasing breastfeeding rates.

I would encourage anyone considering volunteering to give it a try. Jayne's volunteer induction course was fun and interesting. As was the Peer Support Training Programme run by Theresa and Andy. At times volunteering has been challenging. I enjoyed feeling that I was making a positive contribution – making a difference to families. And I was able to have my children with me whilst I did it.

As my children reach school age, I am returning to paid work. Sure start has helped me to maintain the confidence to do this. They have also helped to make this important stage in my (and my children's) life more enjoyable. The hard-work of being a parent is rarely recognised or rewarded in our society. (Read the evidence based book “What mothers do especially when it looks like nothing” by Naomi Stadlen if you don’t know what I mean. ) Sure start is a much needed source of support for parents who want to give their child the best start in life.

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Response from Karon Foulkes, General Manager, Sure Start, Health Partnerships - Nottinghamshire Healthcare

Thank you for sharing your journey with Sure Start with staff and the wider public. It is really good to know that Sure Start has been able to support you in your parenting and professional journey over the past few years. Looking after young children is underestimated and undervalued as you say, although in more recent years local and national government have invested a lot in supporting the early years and specifically in Sure Start.

Your story is a great example also of how community engagement works best when it is lead by parents in the community. This is an area that will grow in Sure Start with a new focus on the Perinatal period using specially trained volunteers for those at risk of post natal depression and in the local Mansfield and Ashfield Clinical Commissioning Group investing in paid breast feeding coordinators.

I wish you well in your journey back into paid work and will ask the centres to use your story as an example of how to work effectively with parents and carers.

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Response from Tina Hancock, Sure Start Children's Centres Service Manager, Broxtowe District, Sure Start, Health Partnerships

Thank you for sharing your journey and experience of Sure Start with your community. Sure Start Children's Centres work hard to ensure that we can support people like you to have wonderful family experiences. On the other hand, we value and appreciate all the information and communication we can gather from the community to help us plan and deliver positive futures for families. Keep your support and comments flowing, services will be all the better for it!

Once again, Thank you.

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