Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sure Start Children's Centres

Few weeks ago, I've been lucky enough to find my way through one of Sure Start's classrooms, with the help of a classmate. At first, I thought it's some kind of an early intervention center that offers therapeutic and social services for children with disabilities. Something similar to what 'I think' the one in Dubai looks like. Well, it was different.

I entered through the gate. It was a typical center with rooms. There were KG-like classrooms, a kitchen, and a sensory room. What was interesting about the sensory room that I've seen is the 'booking' system that they offered for parents. They could simply book a specific timing where they can spend some quality time with their child and go through that sensory experience together. In the room, there were instructions all over the place to help parents in understanding what each item can do and its purposes. They can also get creative according to the child's needs. For instance, the bean bags that were scattered around were covered with a huge thin layer of foil, just to increase the sensory awareness of babies or children with visual impairments. It provides them with some sense of space through stimulating their auditory and physical senses. I thought that was fascinating. Just the idea of providing parents with such an option is very interesting.

Next, it was the time for the 'group session' which was held every afternoon on Saturdays. One of its aims is to bring families of disabled children together. Not just the mother and the child, but even family members and friends are also welcome to join in. There were sensory activities, and we waited, and waited. Finally, the families arrived! There were mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends. It was something equal to a trip to 'the mall' for these families. Some clearly came from a poor background, but it didn't really matter. They were having conversations with each other, not only about their children, but general topics. It felt like they were taking a break within a safe school-like environment, where no one's there to judge them or stare at their children.

What I found even more interesting, is the fact that these children come in without informing the coordinator about the child's diagnoses, or WHO from the children is the disabled one! They were all playing around together. Honestly, I was lost as I tried to guess which of these children has the 'label'. But again, does it really matter?

There were many sessions that took place, similar to the one I observed. These groups are:

  • Swimming Session
  • Well Baby Clinic: parents get to meet a health visitor to speak about their child's health concerns, as well as a weight check!
  • Work Club: to speak about JOBS and financial issues, which I found very helpful, especially since they are considered as 'disadvantaged families' who probably got a panic attack knowing that their child is disabled and might require extra financial support.
  • Fitness Group: for moms!  £4  per session, and only  £1 pound for a day care service while the mother works out.
  • Baby and Toddler Time
  • La Leche League Support Group: breast-feeding help and support group
  • Postnatal Group: with a health visitor
  • Little Rascals: an opportunity to meet other moms, dad, and carers (for children between 0 to 18 months)
  • Play and Storytime: focus on language skills
  • MINOS: Mums In Needs Of Support
  • Sensory Fun: targets children with extra sensory needs
  • Midwifery Drop in: supports mothers during their early pregnancy until 28 days after birth
  • Physiotherapy Drop-In
  • Childminder Group
  • Poppies Playgroup: for babies and toddlers
  • Fitness Group--"Baby Comes Too"
  • Men Behaving Dadly: interesting!
  • Special Families United: that's the one I attended

I liked the aim behind establishing such centers. Just the idea of providing the option is amazing. Most of the sessions are run buy volunteers or trained individuals who didn't really need to earn a degree. Also, they didn't have to be from a specific country with certain qualifications and a certain language in order to be hired *hint hint*. It was very pure and simple. I mean its not perfect. They also do have issues to do with parents not attending and not really making use of this opportunity. But this doesn't make them angry with parents. They do continue trying and trying.

"Dubai Early Childhood Development Center". I can't really judge. I've only been there once and it was a very formal 'ministry' visit, with a perfect powerpoint presentation and a pretty Director who was probably the only local person working there. Wait, there was the marketing person too, I guess. Other than that, I never heard a thing about their work. Not yet. So you see, I can't judge. I don't want to judge.

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