SureStart Centers. Do They Matter?

21 January 2011


The SureStart centers are reoccuring in the news recently. Under the 'SureStart' banner, it seems, falls things like the breastfeeding cafes and other schemes such as 'BookStart', both of which I have utilised at least once in my 15 months as a parent.

As a new mum my nearest 'breastfeeding cafe' was in a desperately deprived area of London. I didn't go for long as the sessions were geared at those the government would class as 'most needy' but the other mums there were always engrossed, asked questions, and actually sometimes just looked relieved.

While I understand that we need to save money, and appreciate that we should not expect everything for nothing, I was really pleased recently when the “BookStart” scheme was threatened with closure, but due to public reaction was at least partially preserved. It's not that I think the free book makes much of a difference, but I know for a fact that the BookStart Sessions do.

In a BookStart session the leaders read a group of children a story, sing songs with them, and with the older children do a bit of an craft project. The children were engaged, they were active, and they were learning. And the mothers rested, for that hour. No lattes, no cake, no glass of wine. Just sitting, resting. Sometimes talking to other mums, other times just having the much needed break, that makes you a better mother when you walk out those doors.

I also attended another mums group in Putney, with mums who didn't have to work, and lunched together and paid over £100 a month for their membership to this group – my short membership was a birthday gift. The facilities, the sessions, the teas and the luxuries didn't encourage these mums to rush to the BookStart sessions. So while there might be a few 'sharp elbowed” people taking all they can get, I don't believe this is the norm.

You might ask, why should 'we' be paying for mothers to have a break, or to have help with basic mothering skills?

I read a great quote the other day.

“Each of us must come to care about everyone else’s children. We must recognize that the welfare of our children is intimately linked to the welfare of all other people’s children. After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else’s child will perform it. If one of our children is harmed by violence, someone else’s child will be responsible for the violent act. The good life for our own children can be secured only if a good life is also secured for all other people’s children.” -

Dr. Lilian G. Katz, professor of early childhood education.

That answers the question for me.

But I'd love to know – what impact, if any, do you think these cuts will have on society as we know it?

TOPICS:   News and Recalls


  • Kirsty B.
    We're not the most deprived family, but we're not one to be short either. We lead a comfortable life, and recently have had to pull the belt strings in to accommodate the rise in...well, everything! Sure start centres to us are brilliant. We go generally twice a week. Once on a Monday morning for their general play session and again on a Tuesday morning for their Messy Play session. The people are lovely, the place is lovely. My boys are able to make a lot of mess and I don't feel bad as we all clear it up together at the end of the session. They also get their interactive time with other children. They don't go to nursery or playgroup as I'm a stay at home mum. For me it's vital that they have this time. I don't just sit and relax and do nothing. I play with my children in a constantly changing environment. There is the added bonus that there are no piles of washing staring at me luring me away. Potentially we'd be classed as one of those who can no longer go - purely because we earn too much as a family. How would it impact? Greatly. It'd be seriously sad, and my children would lose their time to be the funny little creatures they are around other kids.
  • Ian P.
    Yes it will be a loss especially for lower income families. Better to raise prices a little and give lower incomes families some vouchers (only to be used by them). Much better to curb the far too over generous public sector pensions a little to provide more worthwhile expenditure.
  • Lynley O.
    Much better to curb the far too over generous public sector executive salaries to provide a more worthwhile expenditure. Our local council just cut lollipop ladies, saving all of £250,000 a year (but costing what to the NHS and families in terms of accidents? Our lollipop lady was off for a week and two children were knocked down by motorists, when actually crossing the road with parents as safely as possible. One motorist came down on the wrong side of the road for example.) Yet the council executives aren't losing their jobs. The chief exec earns £100K more than the prime minister. How is that right?
  • Luschka O.
    Kirsty, I couldn't agree more. We would also be classed as 'earning too much', which is ironic, really, because in our 'too much' I wouldn't be able to afford the £8 - £12 that sessions for toddlers - think Tin Pan Annie, Latino Bambino, Rhyme Time - normally cost in our area. I honestly don't mind the coffee mornings I have to pay £1 or £2 for, I can live with that, but the other sessions which I'd love to take my daughter to, are just simply out of my price range. I agree - as a SAHM, I already fear that my daughter doesn't have enough time with other children. This would impact us greatly too. Thanks for such a detailed comment.
  • susan r.
    My child has mild global learning delay and behavioural difficulties (mainly in the school) and I have just dropped him off to a sure start centre to a special group run twice a month on a Saturday. He was so happy and excited to go, which made me feel uplifted, especially as school can be quite a tense experience. Sadly, this club is closing at the end of March due to funding. At the beginning of surestart I was not allowed to attend a speech and language group as I had the wrong postcode! in the end they let me in as my son was one of the few children attending who really really need extra input from a trained speech therapist. As a midwife I feel that surestart has made such a difference and really it is only at the beginning of making changes to children and community they serve. Families would much rather a good local surestart centre than longer input from a named health visitor or midwife (that they do not alway form a rapport with). It will interesting to see where we are in five years time and I will have to think very carefully about who I willbe voting for.
  • Ling D.
    I live in an area with a lot of social extremes in close proximity. We probably "earn too much" as a family for the SureStart catchment and I do find the money to pay for private classes (swimming, Rhythm Time etc). However instead of being snooty by choosing only to hang out with the "monied folk" up the road and choosing to ignore local provisions, I do attend various SureStart courses, playgroups and messy play etc because I want my son to be exposed to ppl from all backgrounds - in line with the sort of area we live in. For the part of the Centres, they get to count my head and accordingly request more money from central gov. I feel that it is a win-win situation tho I would probably be happy to pay some money into it if it means that my local area gets to keep this service. If this does get cut, it will affect less well-off families more in the immediate future, but long-term I think it will foster a wider social gap and generally make the area less savoury since it removes the one forum where our paths cross. That said with cuts coming from all other sides and we're in the income group (bearing in mind that I am a SATM with no income) where the gov have arbitarily decided to draw a line just below, if I had to reprioritise my spending, this would probably be the first to go.
  • Lynley O.
    Good points Ling. SureStart provides an outlet for all stay at home parents. This assumption that household income is spent equally isn't necessarily true. All too often I know of men who earn quite a bit but begrudge every penny they give to their partner because they don't earn any money totally ignoring the fact that their partner is doing all the work of looking after their children (should make them pay for a nanny and a housekeeper!). We've had five years of SureStart but we're not going to really know the benefits of it for ten years. What an amazing, yet simple and low cost resource for parents it provides.
  • Luschka O.
    I'm sorry to hear that Susan. As Lynley says below, I don't think we'll see the real fallout from this for a good few years, by which time they'll probably have to pour money into some kind of solution to all the problems being caused now. I can't help but feel really annoyed whenever they say they 'understand' or 'empathise' with the rest of us, because I honestly don't believe they do.
  • Luschka O.
    Agreed, but it's not just that - sometimes one partner earns a good salary, but it's just 'enough' that you can pay rent/bills/food/transport without having to lean on the government for any support, but as soon as everything is paid, there's very very little left for very much else :/

What do you think?

Your comment