In the next of our A Fair Start? blog series, Cat Keene, director of services for the charity Trelya, based in Penzance, writes about how early intervention is transforming lives.

West Cornwall is one of the most economically deprived and under resourced communities in England. As a result of a systemic infrastructure failure to meet the needs of the families who live here, day to day life can be full of struggle and inequity.

Such levels of social, economic and resource deprivation means that unfortunately we see for ourselves the generational transmission of many challenges, including negative experiences of early education. We know that such difficulties early in life cast a long shadow over children as they grow which often remains with them for the rest of their lives.

We’ve seen children as young as 6 being excluded from school and 10-year-olds completely disengaged with the education system, barely returning as they grow. These experiences aren’t rare, and they take their toll on these children’s life courses, opportunities and motivation.

Trelya is the Cornish word for change. As a grassroots organisation witnessing the life course of so many children, we’ve evolved our service in response to need. We’ve wound back the starting age of the children we work with because we know that injustice starts early, and that change is best started early too. That’s why we back the Sutton Trust’s campaign for all three-and-four-year-olds to receive 30 hours of early years education a week.

We believe that the current 15 hours funded childcare isn’t enough for families. Children are missing out on spending enough time in a positive environment where everyone gets the chance to thrive and flourish.

Extra hours aren’t just about a potential economic impact enabling parents to work. For us the primary focus is the human impact. Quality early years provision and wraparound intervention leaves an important legacy which sits beyond economy. Extra hours of enrichment and early education enables both children and parents to lead equitable and fulfilling lives which contain opportunity and provide choice.

To change the trajectory of family lives in our area, we now work with women and carers before their babies are born. Over the years we’ve listened and responded to peoples’ worries and fears. We’ve grown our understanding of the complexities within engagement and accessibility to create a new way of working which tackles these head on.

We work alongside parents to help them develop trust and understanding of other services and professionals. We walk with them every step of the way whilst in partnership with brilliant midwives, nurses and social care and whatever other specialty is required. We identify what is needed, find it, and bring it to our parents in a relatable and meaningful way.

Over time, our initial parent and child groups gradually evolved into the Skylar nursery as it stands today –  providing a valuable foundation to our wider youth and family work.

It’s vital that parents have what they need in their own lives. We support parents to take new opportunities for learning and development by upskilling them in English, maths, cooking skills and first aid. We get both parent and child fully on board for a positive early years’ experience in the hope that the long shadow is never cast.

When children begin school, they should’ve already had their strengths and assets tapped into. By the time they leave Skylar children have begun to explore their sense of self, understand their emotions and use accurate vocabulary to wrap around their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Our children are defying the odds and are entering school at age related expectations. They’re on a par with their peers and their world is already a fairer one.  We want to do all we can to ensure that 6-year-olds are enjoying school and making friends – not being excluded from it. Our work continues with our Skylar children throughout their school lives and we hear from teachers how the early positive experiences are scaffolding a far more successful school journey.

Working in close partnership with health, social care, schools, speech and language therapists, music and play therapists, nutritional experts and artists, we strive to provide an early years’ experience that equips children and their families as fully as possible for the journey ahead.

Our model is free at the point of access for families, which means we have to raise the money as a charity to fund this much needed long-term work. We receive funding for the two-year-old and 3 and 4-year-old offer, but this of course doesn’t cover the cost of our holistic service.

It’s time we gave fair access to 30 hours to everyone who needs it. This extra support would make a life changing difference to so many children and families. If we can invest in children now, it will give them the chance to thrive in the future. Who wouldn’t want this?

The Sutton Trust is campaigning for all three- and four-year-olds to have access to 30 hours of early education. You can find out more here.

The opinions of guest authors in our A Fair Start? series do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Sutton Trust.

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