You might live to 90 years old but what happens to you in your first 3 years will have the greatest impact on the rest of your life. Science has now shown that those early years of a child’s life are the period by far of fastest growth and development of the brain and social skills and they predict, in most cases, a person’s life path. That’s why it’s so important that children have a good experience of their early years and parents and families are vital to this – however, it’s a tough job and that’s where Surestart comes in.
2016 saw the Greater Shankill Early Years Project, which includes Surestart, come of age at 21 years in operation. It has supported thousands of families from before birth through those critical first three years of their child’s life with a range of programmes, including:
- Home Visiting/ Family Support Service
- Antenatal Support Programme
- Postnatal support
- Infant Massage & Baby Yoga
- Speech & Language Support service
- Parent & toddler Groups
- Tiny Steps Development Programme for Two Year Olds
- Dads Matter Initiative & specialist programmes.
“Mellow Bumps” is a programme during pregnancy for mum and baby helping bonding and preparation for becoming a parent.
Once the baby arrives, Surestart has a home visiting, home support programme, if new parents want it and then mum and baby can join in classes for infant massage and even baby yoga. As the baby grows into a toddler, Surestart can then offer specialist help, if problems start to arise, like any speech and language difficulties and of course there are a series of Mother & Toddler Groups.
The flagship programme of Surestart is “Tiny Steps”, a programme for 2-3 year olds before they start nursery school. With places for 48 children, the programme runs out of a number of venues including the Alessie Centre at 60 Shankill Road and the Hannah Centre in Ballysillan. This child-led learning programme prepares children for the step up into nursery and has been shown to have big positive impacts on the development of children who have benefitted from the programme.
Finally, Early Years doesn’t forget Dads and the “Dad’s Matter Initiative” supports fathers to enhance their parenting skills.