Most support for parents is provided directly by parents to parents both informally and as part of constituted groups.
Over the last eighteen months I have talked to many parents involved in baby / toddler groups or groups for parents. The need for this type of support was summed up for me this week when I was at the Patchwork toddler group, which was having its first session back after a few weeks break. I had arrived before the group started and as parents arrived I overheard many of them saying something to the effect ‘This is a God send’
How well does society / community support parents to support each other? My impression is that funding in this area is a mosaic of overlapping grants which are applied for competitively and therefore time consuming to obtain and account for. Support for community groups can be patchy and it can be difficult to sustain. Yet these groups are clearly part of the fabric of communities – should we be supporting them more strategically?
Patchwork EH32 is one of the community champions for Support from the Start. They have also been a beneficiary of the service development fund with Lorraine Congalton community development officer in Prestonpans and a service champion for Support From sponsoring a bid to help develop the capacity of the parents group to reach more parents.
Here are some of the people involved in Patchwork talking about the group.
This is my first attempt at posting an interview from the ‘voxur’ unit which has been used to get views of comunity members and professionals about early years issues.
This is Tracey from Whitecraig talking about the impact Support from the Start has had on early years in that community.
Professor Aline Wendy Dunlop was the third presenter at a seminar on readiness for learning held on the 6th May at the McSense centre in Mayfield, Dalkeith.
Professor Aline-Wendy Dunlop is a Chair of Childhood and Primary Studies; responsibilities include providing leadership in applied educational research and teaching and learning. She is also Lead Director of the National Centre of Autism Studies which houses the Scottish Autism Service Network.
In a fascinating presentation Professor Dunlop spoke on the theme of :-
What does study of early years transitions tell us about readiness for learning?
A key learning point for me was thinking about ‘transition’ in terms of opportunities for parental engagement. Transition from home to nursery or nursery to school can create anxiety for both parent and child; but it can also be a time when parents are particularly amenable to engagement with agencies who they perceive as being able to support them in that transition.
How well do services support parents in these transitions? Do we ptovide enough information early enough? Do we make the best use of these periods to both support parents but also engage them with service agendas?
Professor Dunlop closed her presentation with a slide on attunement – which refers to a concept within ‘attachment theory’ that examines how adult parental figures attune their responses to that of their child – she uses the idea of a dance where the partners movements are attuned to each others. How well attuned are services to the needs of parents and children during these transition – or do we just make them dance to our own steps?
Aline-Wendy Dunlop’s Powerpoint Presentation
On the 6th may a seminar was held at the McSesne conference centre in Mayfield, Dalkeith – looking at the concept of readiness for learning. The seminar was attended largely by Support from the Start service champions for Mid and East Lothian, but also by a number of headteachers and other interested professionals.
Dr Rosemary Geddes is a part of the Scottish Collaboration on Public Health led by Professor John Frank
The remit of the Collaboration is: to identify key areas of opportunity for developing novel public health interventions that equitably address major Scottish health problems; to foster collaboration between government, researchers and the public health community to develop a national programme of intervention development, large-scale implementation and robust evaluation; and to build capacity within the public health community for collaborative research of the highest quality which will have maximum impact on policies, programmes and practice.
Dr Geddes opened the session with a presentation on the health implications of ‘readiness for learning.
A further two posts will follow with the other presentations from the seminar
Rosemary Geddes’ Presentation
The Fast tracking of forest school is one initiative within Support from the Start – over the last year we have commissioned two forest school leader training courses for East Lothian staff that priortised staff in the target are.. The folowing year we hope to train more forest school leaders in partnership with Edinburgh Forest Education initiative, but also to offer training to staff who are supporting forest school leaders – known as level two training and a bespoke training course for nursery staff.
Here is a progress report on Forest School in East Lothian, giving an update on training delivered and equipment and kit purchased.
Forest School in East Lothian (2)
Also a Forest School edubuzz group has been started that may be of interest https://www.edubuzz.org/groups/east-lothian-forest-schools/
As you are aware Whitecraig is one of the communities that is part of the Support from the Start process in East Lothian, which aims to improve health outcomes by focusing on intervention in the early years and support for parents.
As part of this process we have begun a ‘civic conversation’ on health and well being in Whitecraig with an event that looked at the health needs of early years families from a parents perspective (see enclosed report). The output of this event was the identification of two themes by the parents that were present – play, and access to services.
I would like to invite you to attend a short meeting to discuss how we can take the ‘civic conversation’ to the next level in Whitecraig by focusing on the play issue in particular. This meeting would be to look at how parents in Whitecraig can be engaged in play as a health issue.
If you are happy to participate in this I would be grateful if you could indicate which of the following dates you could make.
Friday 12th June am
Monday 22nd June pm
Tuesday July 7th
This picture was part of a presentation given by the Chief Medical officer Harry Burns
at a conference on Equally Well. The pictures shows what happens to brain development in cases of extreme neglect. Neglect so extreme to cause such marked under development of a child’s brain is thankfully very rare but the picture does demonstrate that brain development is closely related to the environment a child finds itself in.
Dr Burns presentation described the determinants of early brain development with the following bullet points:-
- At birth, development shifts from genetic to environmental influences
- There are 100 billion neurons but they are not part of functional networks
- First few years are spent forming permanent neural networks -‘Neurons that fire together wire together’
- Social interaction determines brain development
He went on to discuss attachment theory giving the following quote:
“Infants develop the attachment behaviours that optimally enhance their survival in their own characteristic environments.”
He described the development of attachment as ‘Serve & return’ meaning that the infant will respond to positive rewarding stimuli by developing an attachment which strengthens with each return. However, if the return is absent, negative or chaotic this will set up responses in the child that help it to cope with this environment but which will probably prove maladaptive in the longer term. He illustrated this with reference to a study called the Dunedin cohort which was 1000 children recruited in late 1972/3. At age 3, “at risk” children were identified on the basis of chaotic circumstances, emotional behaviour, negativity and poor attentiveness
As adults, those “at risk” were more likely to : –
- be unemployed
- have criminal convictions (especially for violence)
- been pregnant as a teenager
- have a substance abuse problem
- exhibit signs of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome
The above means that the template for health can be set at a very young age, and though it is possible to change problems created by difficulties in the early years of life, a poor start can make it hard to catch up. This is the rationale for focusing on preventing health inequalities by focusing on the early years of life and support for parents.
You can view the full presentation on the social circumstances of health at this link
Scotland’s public health minister Shona Robinson chaired a ministerial taskforce to look at how Scotland can challenge the kind of inequality that leads to significantly different health outcomes for different parts of our community. The taskforce published a report called ‘Equally Well’ which amongst a number of recommendations called for the setting up of ‘test sites’ to lead on the learning that is needed to address the issue of health inequality. East Lothian has been selected as one of eight test sites in Scotland with a focus on early years and parenting. We have called the test site in East Lothian ‘Support from the Start’ to reflect the aim of ensuring that communities and services are doing all that is possible to address the health needs of the youngest members of our community in the areas where we know that health outcomes are poorest.
Support from the Start is not a short term project but rather a focus within all mainstream services on health inequality in the early years of life. Governance for the programme will be provided by a steering Board consisting of Councillor Roger Knox (Depute Provost & Health Spokesman); Councillor Ruth Currie (Cabinet Member for Joint Future & Community Care & Youth Champion); Sue Ross (Director of Community Services & Chair of Joint Health Improvement Project Board); Don Ledingham (Acting Director of Education & Children’s Services & Chair of Children’s Services Chief Officers Group); Gerry Power (General Manager East Lothian Community Health Partnership) This group will provide strategic leadership and ensure that all relevant planning groups are involved in developing Support from the Start.
Four broad outcome areas for mainstream services in relation to health inequality have been identified:-
- Community Engagement with key health issues in the early years,
- Improving Support for Parents & Carers,
- Improving Support for Families,
- Creating Child Friendly Environments
We know that there is already lots of good practise in these areas but ‘Support from the Start’ will be asking service providers to review what they are are already doing with the following questions in mind : –
- How do we get our communities, parents and children involved in key health improvement challenges for the early years of life? e.g. increasing the number of breastfeeding mothers, reducing passive smoking in the home environment, increasing physical activity levels of children in the early years, improving diet and dental hygiene
- Do East Lothian services make it easy for parents to be ‘good enough’, and can parents access the right support, early enough when they are finding it hard to cope?
- How do we target support for children and families that are at risk of poor health, and is it effective?
- Does the physical space of our communities contribute to creating good health in the early years and support parents in raising healthy children safely
Key to ensuring success in this endeavour will be engagement, leadership and learning. A process has started to identify individuals from across a range of services who can act as ‘champions’ for ‘Support from the Start’. These champions will be tasked with creating a learning environment in their service areas on the issues of health and social justice related to tackling health inequality in the early years. The champions will be contributors to this blog.
My hope for this web log is that it will be a space in which discussion and reflection on the complex task of reducing health inequalities in East Lothian can be supported and encouraged.
All views and opinions welcome.
Health Improvement Development Officer