I’d written last week about a bit of a shocker at 1 of the playgroups run by a local Nursery / School. They announced that all but 1 of their playgroups for babies & toddlers were stopping after Easter. That’s 2 of the 3 that we go to every week. Then on Monday they announced that the 3rd was stopping too.
“Severe budget cuts” the explanatory letter reads. “From April 2nd we are required to provide our services to those families who are most at need”. (They seem to have missed out the word “only”). These I think are things like “Triple P” programmes & classes for struggling families that are by “Referral only”. I certainly can’t argue with that; anything that can help parents become better carers for their children should be supported.
Parenting isn’t easy, that’s for sure! We had been trying for children for a while, & when two turned up at once it was a dream come true, especially for my wife. They were loved from before they were born. That isn’t always the case. Some children are born unplanned & unwanted. Parents can resent their existence & the demands placed upon them, the restrictions on their lifestyles. And then there’s PND; as I understand it a very real illness that can affect anyone.
And while we are by no means rich we are able to provide our children with a nice life. They have good food when they need it: nutritious with the odd treat. They have milk, juice & water to drink in abundance. They have clothes to keep them warm & dry, shoes for their feet, nappies for their bums. They have space where they can play, inside & out, & quiet rooms in which they can sleep peacefully. Toys to play with, books to read & have read to them. Music to listen, sing & dance to, & yes: fun & educational TV to enjoy.
And I certainly don’t mean to sound superior or boastful, in any of this – far from it. But I think it’s fair to say that both my wife & I are fortunate in having the benefit too of a decent education & enough intelligence to be able to think & reason our way through the hardships that family life, & life in general, throws our way.
Many children aren’t so lucky, especially in these times of austerity. So I applaud the services that remain. If they’re as good as the ones we’ve been to they’ll be of great help to the families who use them.
But I still can’t help but think that so many families will lose a great deal in classes like these being stopped. We ‘nice middle-class parents’, if that’s what we are, we who are careful about their diet & health, we who read to our children, talk with them, recite numbers & letters with them, help them identify colours & shapes, play with them. Do we need help?
Of course we do! Every parent does. Any parent who feels that they have nothing to learn has stopped learning.
We & especially our twins have benefitted so much from these classes. Their communication has been greatly helped. Jake was signing long before he could speak, & still does, which apparently is quite common when taught. Fantastic for communication: I’m sure I don’t need to tell parents that frustration in expressing themselves & being understood is a major cause of tantrums!
I can still see Ellie jumping up & down with excitement & trying to do the actions as we all sang “Wind your bobbin up” or “The wheels on the bus”. They have gone from being utterly confused by anything creative to demanding to “draw!” every time they see me with a pen in my hand. Being around other children & parents has greatly helped their social skills.
There’s also the aspect of ‘more accomplished’ parents being role models to those who might be struggling, simply by virtue of us all being lumped into the same room together; talking to & learning from each other. Really important, I think.
And we parents have taken what we’ve learnt back home; we’ve become better parents. Isn’t it as good for society if our children grow up better adjusted, happier, healthier, smarter as for those “most at need”? Does starting from ‘further up the ladder’ mean that we can’t also travel at least as far up again as those starting from ‘lower down’?
Rhetorical questions, but valid nonetheless I think, addressing really the principle of universality in public services - which increasingly appears to be under threat under the Government’s programme of cuts.
So what now? At the last class I suggested the possibility of continuing 1 or more of the classes as fee-charging, financially self-supporting. I know we would gladly pay more than the usual nominal fee for at least 1 class per week, & I know other parents there feel the same. None of the managers seemed to have even considered the possibility, & told me that it wasn’t just cuts, that the room we use had been “claimed by the Nursery”.
And I think this is what annoys me most in all this, apart from the suddenness of it all. The classes seem to have just been dumped, with no thought as to any kind of alternative being offered. One of the playgroup staff at least that I know of has lost her job; it seems to me that this might have been avoidable.
The woman who runs the main group is a bit bolshy & slightly eccentric: I like her. She is organising a get-together to talk about future action so it will be interesting to see what comes out of it.
Life moves on, but it’s a shame.
UPDATED 26/3: The Monday group is going to try to carry on as self-supporting & fee-charging, but in a smaller room at the Nursery. So maybe 1 of the other 2 will too, we’ll see. It looks like our complaining has had an effect!