Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Fulfilling Lives - A Better Start

I am delighted that our application on behalf of Newcastle City Council and partners to the Big Lottery 'Fulfilling Lives - A Better Start' programme is through to the next stage. Newcastle is one of just 15 places selected from 40 applications submitted at the beginning of June this year.

Big Lottery have commissioned Dartington Social Research Unit to work intensively with each of the 15 sites between now and 3rd January to create a partnership and develop a business plan that will give parents and babies living in challenging circumstances the best start in life. Children North East has also been awarded a development grant to help the process along. Business plans must be submitted to the Big Lottery by 3rd January who will then select 5 places which will each receive up to £5m a year for 10 years, a huge investment in pregnancy, parenting and babies.

Children North East will be leading a partnership of organisations working in the wards of Walker, Byker, Elswick, Benwell and Scotswood. In these wards 25% of pregnant women are obese; figures for low birth weight are worse than the England average; in one ward only 18% of women are still breastfeeding when their babies are 8 weeks old; Newcastle has the highest child obesity figures in the country in reception year (age 6); and the highest proportion of incidents of domestic violence in the city occur in families where a child is under one year old.

The partnership will recruit more midwives to advise obese women and those experiencing domestic violence. It will set up an online resource to prepare fathers for parenthood and train nursery nurses to support parents with new babies. Programmes will also address nutrition, smoking and alcohol consumption and advice on healthy living during pregnancy, achieving higher breastfeeding rates and improving parents skills in budgeting and preparing healthy food.

As new parents become proficient they will be invited to train as volunteer ‘doulas’ to advise and support new parents. An accredited training programme will be developed and as the number of doulas grows, an offer of doula support will be made to all new parents thus spreading the learning and impact to other parts of the city.

The next four months are going to be very exciting as we create the partnership and develop the plan, it is a fantastic opportunity for health, council and voluntary organisations in Newcastle to dramatically improve services and support for expectant Mams and Dads and their babies.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Daniel Pelka - seen but not heard

In among the storm of justified outrage about the starving and eventual killing of Daniel Pelka by his parents I see only Daniel and wonder why no one seems to have talked to him.

We will have to wait for the findings of the 'serious case review' to find out the details of what happened and what all the teachers, social workers and doubtless many other professionals were trying to do about it - incidentally that is why none of them are available for comment at the moment in case they incriminate themselves or others ahead of the serious case review. But here was a little boy at primary school. He wasn't a baby at home, he was out in the community and he could talk. Had someone asked him why he was searching the rubbish bins for food he might have told them but we don't know yet whether anyone did ask him.

Had he thought they could help him he might have asked a teacher or some other kindly adult to help him, but so far it appears he did not ask. And that is where my concern lies. Is it right that children in primary school are apparently not encouraged to confide in their teacher, classroom assistant, playground assistant or dinner nanny? Who or what prevents them? Why is there a culture in school that does not encourage that sharing? Are we comfortable with the idea that school is only about 'processing' a cohort of children through each year? That the human relationships between adults (not just teachers) in school and children is somehow at best a luxury or at worst irrelevant?

Children are not little creatures to be 'parented', 'educated', 'trained' or 'managed' until they eventually, to the relief of everyone, turn into adults. From birth they are people, the same as adults have been people from birth. Children are citizens the same as everyone else but they deserve and need extra care from all adults because they do not (yet) have the capacities that adults do. And every adult has a responsibility to look out for children for the simple and obvious reason that we are all part of the human race; the care of children is everyone's business not just the province of some professionals who have it in their job description.