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Cuts would deal ‘hammer blow’ to baby cafés cause
10:00am Friday 25th October 2013 in News
Former midwife Sue Richards speaks about
the impact of the proposed closure of 37
of Oxfordshire’s 44 children’s centres
I FIRST became aware of children’s centres while I was working as a community midwife in the Abingdon area. They came about as a direct result of the tragic death of Victoria Climbié, who was tortured and murdered by her guardians in 2000. The report from the inquiry, named Every Child Matters, detailed the crucial necessity for all agencies to work together to develop a family-friendly approach to child support and safety. The North Abingdon Children’s Centre approached me and asked if I would run the baby café from their centre as a way of introducing new parents to the services, with infants as young as two days.
This was just the most wonderful step forward in the life of the baby café.
The café started its life in Sussex, where two health care professionals were given a Government grant to develop a centre of excellence for the promotion, initiation and support of breastfeeding. Abingdon proudly became the first off-shoot of this enterprise and the baby café is now an international charity running in partnership with the National Childbirth Trust. The health benefits of breastfeeding are well documented and the North Abingdon Children’s Centre just felt the right place to be. Everything about the ethos and the physical space encouraged parents to come and trust the staff to help them make positive choices on the way ahead. Following the success of the Abingdon baby café, the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals trust encouraged the support of breastfeeding in the community, to take this route and to develop baby cafés throughout the county. This we did and thousands of mothers and babies have received excellence of care and follow-up in children’s centres. Midwives and health visitors were also encouraged to come and see mothers at the centres. Preparation for breastfeeding classes are held in the centres. There is no physical space left anywhere within the health service to run any of these classes now so the loss of children’s centres would be a hammer blow.
Around 20 mothers and babies come to the North Abingdon Children’s Centre baby café every Thursday, and of those about six will need real frontline help with breast feeding. Consistent and expert help is available and part of that package is review and on-going support.
In Abingdon this is now available in the North East Abingdon Children’s Centre and the South Abingdon Children’s Centre. We have also had mothers come from Oxford, Henley, Wallingford and Reading for help if their baby café was not open on the day they needed the help.
This support comes not only from the baby café team but also from the other mothers who continue to come once the initial difficulties have been overcome. At this stage they form lifelong friendships and support each other. The children’s centre team work with these mothers, identifying those who may be struggling in a way that could deteriorate rapidly. This is where the multi-agency work is so vital. We work as a team to offer one to one care where appropriate. Post-natal depression is often picked up within the baby café and vital referrals made quickly. The children’s centre staff also organise excellent courses targeting the various issues affecting family life – courses to encourage positive interaction with babies, such as baby bliss and baby massage. This may sound lightweight, but to mothers who have infants who are difficult to settle, these sessions form a lifeline, helping resolve problems and safeguarding issues in the long run – money well spent in anyone’s budget. Healthy eating and cooking sessions are held to help stem the tide of obesity in our very young, which means more cost savings in the long run. Support for mothers who have experienced domestic abuse is given in the centre.
Family contact sessions where children are in the care of the local authority or one member of the family is estranged are held in the centre. The team also provides vital support to families serving in the Armed Forces at Dalton Barracks.
This work is done in conjunction with the service personnel, health visitors, midwives, social workers and schools.
The staff at the North Abingdon Children’s Centre are well trained and well managed. The centre is always vibrant and busy and it always feels like a good place to be.
It is professional in its approach to families and it is warm, clean and fit for purpose. This system where everyone knows who to contact for support has taken time, effort, expertise and money to develop. The report Every Child Matters specifically pointed out the importance of early intervention, in issues surrounding children, that could potentially spiral out of control. The children’s centres and, in my experience, North Abingdon Children’s Centre in particular, have risen to this challenge magnificently.
Cherish them, don’t close them.
CV Sue Richards
She was a midwife for 37 years at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Headington.
Manager of 11 years of the parent support charity Baby Café now based at the North Abingdon Children’s Centre.
International board certified lactation consultant.
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