What happens in response will be key. I have heard early verbal commitments to invest like never before, especially in infrastructure. This is to be welcomed.
It seems de rigueur to lay out one’s working class, comprehensive school educated, northern credentials, but I know from personal experience the effects of living in disadvantaged mining communities and lack of transport for young people striving to realise their dreams. Such conditions stifle opportunity at home and drive young people away to seek their opportunities in the big cities. These circumstances are also found in all areas of the country, not just in the North.
However, the government would do well to look beyond traditional road and rail projects, important as they are. The government should build foundations around children and families in some key policy areas. Every family needs something different, not an off-the-shelf service that achieves little impact. That is why I think a return to the peak of the one-size-fits-all children’s centres programme would be a mistake. Too much emphasis was placed on building and resourcing centres, then filling them with services that did not always hit the mark. That said, I have seen lots of amazing centres, built in the right location and constructed appropriately, and staffed by teams who truly know the meaning of community engagement, co-location, multi-agency working and evidencing impact and outcomes. Services for families happen everywhere – not just in dedicated centres. They happen in our amazing early years and childcare settings, in health centres, in the home, at school and across local communities.
Of course, children’s centres really were not afforded a proper or focused opportunity to embed and prove their worth before they were subject to the consequences of austerity. Any new investment would need to be more patient, but not without upping the expectations on achieving outcomes, collecting evidence and demonstrating return on investment. Much has been learned over the past 10 years through the hard choices local areas have made when they have changed, restructured and refocused. Investment is required to reverse what, for many, has become a tipping point of decline that has only served to further diminish the energy and commitment remaining in the sector. Investment needs to ensure our early years and childcare entitlements and providers are able to deliver their services and contribute to wider outcomes on a level playing field of resource and professional respect. I always say, the more you fund early years, the more we will deliver.
New foundations should build individualised and non-stigmatised route maps of services acting as partners with families. They need and want early, available and personalised services to support early parenting, identifying of children’s needs, useful intervention where it is needed, and high quality, properly funded early years learning, childcare and education for their children. All to support learning, health, wellbeing, childcare, and parents’ learning and employment goals. Such foundations for families investment should attach itself to these multiple outcomes – not just the current priority of a sponsoring department.
Building futures and opportunities isn’t all about bricks and mortar. Let us truly connect with families and their children and make the difference everyone wants for their futures and communities. Investment now is proven to save all sorts of unnecessary costs later.
James Hempsall is director of Hempsalls, a specialist early years consultancy