Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres are an invaluable resource for many families, providing a welcoming social hub and essential support without stigma, preventing crises being reached. Here are some of our stories, showing just how valuable the Children’s Centres are to us.
We’d love to hear your story, so please tell us using the form below.
Listen to Dylan’s story, as told to the Oxfordshire County Councillors on 16th Feb 2016.
Dylan, aged 13
I am convinced the children’s centre helped save me from post natal depression. I have a supportive family but after my daughter was born, eventually everyone had to go back to work. My husband works for a charity so we couldn’t have afforded full price classes for labour preparation, baby first aid, or baby massage. These classes gave me a reason to face each day and each week, and only walking distance away, which meant I actually went, despite my post natal challenges. Through the classes I established a better bond with my baby and met other mums who I could meet up with later, or just bumped into around town, giving me friendly faces during a difficult time. Knowing the staff were there was a lifeline.
When my child was born, I had been in a violent and abusive relationship for the best part of a decade. I’m pretty sure one of the only ways I coped for so long was working many, many hours a week in a job I loved. When I found myself at home with my abuser 247 and a new baby my mental health plummeted quickly.
I was sleepwalking through a nightmare that I couldn’t get away from, and now there was a child in the middle of it too. Thankfully my neighbours started to call the police and I got free. I was a broken husk when I reached my first children’s centre. They picked me up and took care of me, encouraging me to come to baby groups and stay and play sessions regularly. They also offered me the Freedom Programme and Recovery Toolkit.
It changed my life. After being on the brink of letting my abuser back in, this programme gave me the confidence and strength to build a new life, a life rich with friends and skills I had gained at children’s centres.
Without children’s centres I would have spiralled into serious metal illness and myself and my child would have been at risk daily.
The NHS did not help me, social services did not help me and the current proposals to cut universal services fill me with dread. Families will be at risk, it’s that simple.
I went to North Abingdon Children’s Centre the day after I got out of hospital, when my Son was 3 days old. The first thing that they did which greatly improved my post natal life was to draw my attention to the fact I could hire a Valley cushion. Even though it was something very small hiring this cushion made my first few weeks as a Mother more physically bearable as I could…well, sit down. The children centres in Abingdon helped in so many other ways too; mainly, as somewhere to get out the house to and go and be with other mums, who were in the same boat. It is incredibly isolating having a newborn and the children centres act as that shining light to tempt you back into the world beyond cluster feeds and muslins. There are so many classes and groups that the children centres put on too, they help the community lots of different ways. I feel the children’s centres in Oxfordshire have a deeper value than budgets or funding, they make a real difference by being an open door as emotionally and physically fragile women try to navigate their way through bonding with their new bundle. The early attachment is such a crucial part of development on which adult health is often balanced, so why not invest in the future of Oxfordshire, instead of pulling the rug out from under the feet of the next generation.
I went to Florence Park Children’s Centre with my newborn to get help with breastfeeding as it was not as easy as I had presumed it would be. There were different types of support workers there who I was able to ask questions that had bewildered me as a new parent with limited family around. It was great to be able to ask those questions and get answers from a face to face experience as the internet is not always helpful for advice. The children’s centre provided a calm nurturing space for me to learn about being a parent while also being present to listen to other mamas with varying issues. I felt supported and not alone in my journey. Parenthood is much more isolating than most people realise. The children’s centres provide a network of help and loveliness that is just so needed with a new baby.
37, Temple Cowley
I first came to the Florence Park children’s centre in tears with my 2 month old baby. I was taken in, sat down, listened to and given support and advice.
They helped me with a referral to a support service and offered a variety of services throughout my year of maternity leave that not only stopped things from being bad, but absolutely turned things around for me and allowed me to treasure my time with my son and grow into a confident parent.
There were weeks when my only form of socialisation was the children’s centre and I have used a number of them throughout Oxford to meet up with friends and get breastfeeding support. From speaking to parents outside of Oxford I know that this level of service is not commonly replicated elsewhere to the detriment of breastfeeding rates and the mental health of new parents.
I am so grateful that I had the support available with my first child and am fearful that it will be withdrawn now that I am pregnant with my second. The children’s centres of Oxford are invaluable.
When my daughter was born the Marston Childrens’ Centre was a life line. We had a very difficult time establishing breastfeeding, so I originally started going to access the Baby Cafe service. Through this I received a huge amount of support- both practical and emotional, which has enabled me to get to the point where I am proud to say I am still breastfeeding my 14 month old.
They also spotted that I had signs of post natal depression and put me in touch with the Outreach Worker there, who was fantastic. She encouraged me to get involved in a wide range of activities. So, for the winter of 2014 I practically lived there! It got me out of the house on dismally rainy days and gave me a chance to connect with other lovely families who were also finding their feet, some of whom I’m still in touch with now.
I was also referred to OXPIP which helped me meet some of the challenges of post natal depression head on, and build my confidence in my abilities as a new parent. So much advice that I read on the internet and in books only seemed to undermine my confidence and make me feel worse, yet everyone I met at the Childrens’ Centre helped me to learn to trust my instincts and finally… start enjoying parenthood! I can’t thank them enough.
I have used all of the children’s centres in Banbury with my children during the last 16 years, with my eldest I was new to the area and the children’s centre was somewhere I went to make friends, this soon turned into learning as I did many courses which helped me and my children, I also became a volunteer. With my younger children I have used children’s centres to access support with difficult behaviour/health issues, post natal and antenatal depression, speech and language support, learning opportunity’s for myself and my children and to form lasting support networks for our family (we have no family in the area). Unless you have experienced it it is hard to understand the isolation small children can bring, and with a partner that works full time to support us financially I have found children’s centres absolutely unique in the support and opportunities they provide, without needing to be assessed or judged, they are open to any parent which is very rare. We are on low income and they offer great opportunities for my children that I cannot afford to at home. If the centres are closed we will be loosing a valuable resource for the youngest members of our communities, vulnerable children and families.
I have been to a few centres, the First being East Street Centre. The people were all so friendly, its nice to meet people in the same boat as you and you can get help and advice. I think children’s centres are good for meeting other mums and getting out the house as it can be very lonely at times at home. I couldn’t imagine them not being around.
My first daughter was born in December 2011. We had just moved to Oxford, and after a shaky start it was 5 weeks before I made my first nervous trip out of the house alone: on the recommendation of my health visitor I went to Florence Park Children’s Centre to attend the You and Your Baby group. I hadn’t expected to find motherhood so difficult and it was a big relief to experience the comfort, support and friendship at the group over the next 3 months and beyond. The advice I received about sleep, breastfeeding, first aid, weaning and many other topics has had such a huge positive impact on my parenting: I made friends and grew in confidence; no longer alone in the challenges early parenthood brings. As my daughter got older and we moved house across Oxford we continued to use the Marston, Florence Park and East Oxford children’s centres for stay and play sessions and especially enjoyed the imaginative outdoor play at Barracks Lane run by East Oxford Children’s Centre. When I became pregnant with my second child in 2013 I suffered terrible sickness and the stay and play sessions at East Oxford Children’s Centre were a real sanctuary for us: my daughter loved the kind, supportive staff and the lunch meant we could eat healthily at a time I couldn’t face cooking anything. Later as a mother of a 2.5 year old and a newborn the stay and play sessions at Marston and East Oxford Children’s Centres continued to be invaluable. For me with no access to a car in the week and 2 small children it has been key that these facilities are within a 30 minute walk of my front door. Any further and I certainly wouldn’t have made that first trip with my newborn all those years ago. I feel our whole family has benefited enormously from our experiences at the children’s centres in Oxfordshire and believe it is incredibly important that these facilities remain available to all parents of young children in the county. The early years of parenting are incredibly challenging and all parents are vulnerable to the responsibility and stress that comes with a new baby and the continued challenges of caring for one or more small children. It is not always easy to identify who will struggle and those who are vulnerable to post-natal depression and its not easy to know where to go for help. Children’s centres are vital in giving children the best start in life and improving the mental health of parents by welcoming, supporting and nurturing families from all walks of life. We are a stronger, healthier, more informed and happier family as a direct result of the children’s centres in Oxford.
The Marston Children’s Centre is an invaluable resource for us as a family. I made very regular use of the Baby Café, health visitor clinic and “Stay and Play” services while I was on maternity leave. The baby massage course was every bit as professional as the private baby massage class I also attended and the “Baby and Me” group provided an invaluable network of other first time Mums for those bewilderingly emotional early months. When my son was 5 months I enrolled in the zumba class. This was the first time I had left him with anyone other than family and it was a big step for both of us, but I liked and trusted the staff and felt privileged to be able to enjoy some “me time” knowing that he was being well looked after in the next-door room. My son is now 2 and I am back at work but I still enjoy the zumba (I juggled my working days to be off on a Friday especially for this!) and the friendly support team at the centre. We would be very sad to lose this service.
Dynamic Dads at the Marston Children’s Centre has been a great forum for meeting other new Dads and hearing hints and tips on where best to entertain vehicle-mad toddlers in Oxfordshire! Building fires and making popcorn up at Shotover was a particular hit for us – my son still talks about it 3 months on…
Our first experience of the Children’s Centres in Oxford was accessing the BabyCafe at Florence Park (our closest and most-used centre) when my son was just a few weeks old. I struggled a LOT with establishing breastfeeding, for probably the first 6 weeks: it was painful, exhausting and stressful, and without support from easily-accessible professionals I have no doubt I would have given up, in tears, instead of enjoying 11 months of giving my son a great start in life. Once we had cracked the BF, the Centres became a great place to socialise, with Mums, Dads, other carers, and of course, children! For a family with little indoor space, and even less outdoor space, there were ample opportunities to run, get messy (indoors and out), be noisy, climb, build and generally have a broader range of play-based experiences. We took advantage of first aid courses, parenting courses, and later, when Dad took over the full time childcare, for social and support groups for Dads, which I know were also invaluable for my partner. As a first time parent you have so many questions and feel rather unsure of many parenting decisions, so having a safe space to ask questions of the professional support workers, and indeed vent to other parents, is vital in helping us feel less alone. With my second child, three years later, the Centres were a saving grace in giving an active toddler space to let off some steam, whilst I had a safe space to feed his sister, and some much-needed adult conversation. Parenting can be frustrating and lonely at times – I am sure the early years of bringing up my kids would have been so different without the Centres on my doorstep. It greatly saddens me that other families may have to make do without these wonderful resources, and that their parenting journeys may suffer and be less happy as a result. Not to mention vulnerable families who will find it harder to get the support that they desperately need.
42, East Oxford
I’ve twin girls and this is my life life the staff and other mums at britania Rd are fantastic and soo helpful which I don’t get at some other groups my girls are learning all the time from the other children and the staff o would b lost without it I can’t thank the staff enough the so lovely and helpful
When I moved to Banbury I was 20 weeks pregnant and I didn’t know anyone and certainly didn’t really know about children’s centres. After getting in touch with the local NCT I was introduced to a lovely lady who lived down my road who had a toddler and a 9 week old and thanks to her I had my first of many visits to my local children’s centre. I met the team and I was very sure that when my baby would arrive (4 weeks to go) I would definitely visit and make use of the social scene and support that these centres provide. I had my baby the very next day and when she was 5 weeks old keeps we began to visit for Baby Cafe in order to receive breastfeeding support, chat to other parents and have a hot drink to enjoy. The staff have always been really friendly and have been particularly useful with breastfeeding issues and helping me get referrals. From then on we have attended soft play based playgroups, with the option of a cooked lunch which made some days easier, there is always something seasonal to participate in which is excellent for children and there are opportunities to go on trips as well as new learning opportunities. Had I not been introduced to the children’s centres I would have felt pretty isolated with a new baby and no immediate family for a hundred or so miles. The friend network which I made from visits and drop in clinics will be a lasting one, for me and my children. I hope this valuable resource continues to offer such opportunities and vital support to families from all different backgrounds.
I was the Liberal Democrat PPC for Oxford East. I stepped down a few months before the election to support my wife who had developed PND after the birth of our second child. The services provided locally to support her have been vital. It is crucial that they are accessible as close to home as possible. The idea that the nearest centre may be a 50 minute bus ride away is simply not good enough. Who determines need? The facilities at the Orchard are magnificent. There are simply some things that you cannot and should not cut. This is one of them.
Without children’s centres so many parents like me would face the world alone. I suffered post natal depression with my first son and when I was starting to feel better I dragged myself to Florence Park where my friend was working. Through their support and the kindness of the parents I met I gained confidence as a mum and my pnd started to lessen. No matter what the weather there are always groups on where children can play safe and grow in their abilities; Parents and staff support each other, help you stop feeling alone and help us to find solutions to the challenges parenting brings. With my second pregnancy I was very nauseous with morning sickness day and night. I knew I would need help again. I got support from IPPS (infant perinatal parents support) and knew I wouldn’t be alone as the children’s centres are there with their constant support and care.
The challenges of parenthood don’t care what your background and upbringing are that’s why universal services are so important. To loose this is to bring heartache to families and divide communities. I have met so many wonderful, caring and kind parents from so many different backgrounds who I now think of as friends. For parents everywhere this is a vital life line. Please don’t let this be the end.
I was made aware of the children’s centres by my health visitor when my son as 5 months old. I had left a very abusive relationship and moved areas in order to give myself and my son a chance at living sucessfuly away from abuse. I was made aware of The Freedom Program and my health visitor recommended that I attended. It’s a kind of a course for people who have suffered abuse. Designed to help keep you safe, teaches you how to recognise healthy relationships from toxic ones & most importantly explains how whatever awful things you went through, none of it was your fault! I follwed on to do Recovery Toolkit, also at the children’s centres, and truely felt so much stronger after finishing both. Without children’s centres I’m not sure where I would be now. Whether I would have had the strength or courage to keep myself away from something that I see now was so far from a healthy relationship. These centres do SO much more than people realise.
By the time my stitches pain had subsided enough to leave the house I was suicidal. I was convinced my baby was going to die of SIDS – and I even wondered if I would care. I thought if I told anyone how I felt she would be taken from me. I was angry at my husband for leaving me alone all day with our baby and was horribly lonely, breastfeeding came to feel like hot wires were running through me and online advice was contradictory. My family live overseas and my in-laws in Kent, and all our friends scattered after university, I knew no one here.
Getting to my Children’s Centre only to find they were all closed for a week felt like the light at the end of the tunnel had gone out, the thought of ‘seeing people’ had been keeping me going. I’ve previously been treated for chronic depression and could feel the same familiar thoughts and feelings, only now I had someone else to think of too.
When I finally got to a Baby Café I immediately saw there were tonnes of women just like me, having similar struggles. I made a lot of great friends, and most worries I’d have stressed about someone else had experienced. It wasn’t long before I was deeply happy and adoring being a mother – and now I really am so in love with my baby and really proud of that she is so social and happy. I know that without the Children’s Centres my very happy marriage would have been under pressure, I would be in counselling and on medication, I’d fear going back to work, and my baby not the carefree, sociable creature she is.
I hate to think how it will be for other new parents.
I’m not a new parent – I have three older boys aged 15 to 23 – but as my existing friends had completed their families I didn’t know any parents of babies when I had my daughter in June this year. My local children’s centre has been a valuable source of information, support and fun. I’ve attended the first aid course offered as well as the parenting course (I welcomed the advice I didn’t get first time round!) and am a regular at the bumps to babies group. I really appreciate the supportive atmosphere!
The Marston Children’s Centre is my sanctuary. Moving here from the U.S. was incredibly challenging. My then 5 month old had stopped sleeping in the night, I had no support system and the move itself mixed with financial tension was straining our marriage. I went to the baby and me group, stay and play, breast feeding support and Polish play time. It has changed everything. It saved me from spiraling into depression. My daughter is now thriving thanks to the education and support we have received. The center is the best lifeline a family could ask for. The center incorporates teaching methods of Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia amongst other early education approaches. I want the best for my child. If the centre’s close, there’s just no way we could afford to keep up with their level of early childhood education. Invest in children, they are our future!
Since the birth of my first child, Elms road Children’s centre has been a precious source of help and support for me. There I have found advice and support with breastfeeding first, then weaning, a children first aid course, then parenting help and as woman. Whenever in doubt or was going through a difficult moment I found friendly advice and words, a place where I felt understood. It’s a wonderful place for young children to play with other kids and for carers to talk to other carers. Parenthood can be isolating and scary at times, we need these places to give young families the support they need.
I’m in no doubt that my children’s centre pulled me from the brink of PND. As a struggling new mum, recovering from a traumatic birth and with a severe reflux baby, the ten minute walk to my centre was a mountain to climb. But when there I found support, warmth and the company of wonderful health visitors and other mums. It was a lifeline until I found my feet and the confidence to believe I could really be a proper mum. I can’t thank the centre staff enough for helping me get there.
I have used the children’s centre at Rose Hill and Littlemore since my daughter was born almost 5 years ago and now with my son too. They have given me opportunities to get out of the house, have a routine and give them fun activities for free. But most importantly I have met other parents who have become friends. The support given and received between parents of children of similar ages cannot be underestimated – it is invaluable.
The Roundabout was a life saver for me & my children, I was a lonely young Mum with 2 children – it helped me through a tough time from suffering from post natel depression. I was able to go to stay & play sessions without stigma that I was a needy or vulnerable parent. I could ask for support & guidance on my children’s development as well as my own well- being from professionals or sign posted to agencies that could help & support me. I was able to share my troubles and joys with other parents with out being made to feel i’d failed by being labelled as a vulnerable parent.
“…the issues around domestic abuse. One of the biggest being isolation. When I was with my ex, he stopped my family and friends from coming round, got me to leave my job (transferred his job to Newcastle, we almost went, made an offer on a house, but there were some company changes and it fell through) wouldn’t give me any money, so it was difficult for me to go anywhere with the kids or see anyone else, he did the food shopping. The family centre was free and somewhere I could go to see and talk to other people, because of the family centre I stayed sane got a job and managed to get myself out of the situation.”
My story doesn’t start with tales of amazing support for breastfeeding, parenting and support for an under fives, even though with a 10 week premature baby, a traumatic birth, then challenging behaviour from my son which resulted eventually in a diagnosis of ADHD I would have loved to access the Children Centre and hugely benefited from its philosophy of acceptance and support.
My interaction with the children’s centre began when my life began again. Myself and my son were relocated to Banbury due to domestic violence and it’s escalation to the point where I was going to die at my own hands or at my then husband. My husband now ex has not seen me or his son for two years. I wasn’t going to share but I believe in the children centres, universal access and importance for all families to have access to service regardless of who classes them as vulnerable, so I’m sharing. I arrived in Banbury with very little and very quickly discovered a gem of the children’s centre.
The children centre helped me get me back. I had no confidence in myself, felt worthless, frightened, depressed, had no boundaries in place for friendships or parenting. I had been moved away from my friends, my mum and dad and everything I thought that was normal (even though it wasn’t). The children centre helped me get my zest for life back slowly. I attended the freedom programme course, and cried a lot, I learnt that the domestic abuse was not my fault, which is not an easy concept for victims of domestic abuse to learn. I then went to the recovery toolkit a programme to understand further the affect the abuse had and how to claim back my rights. I’ve become a supporter on the recovery toolkit programme and also Freedom. In finding my self thanks to universal access, targeted support and plenty of tea and cake, I met my amazing future husband who is a great dad to my son and become a better mum and a stronger person who was given a second chance at nice being the new normal, that’s thanks to the Children’s Centre.
I have a 4yr old & 16month old we used children’s centres in Bicester before moving to Banbury almost a year ago. We didn’t know anyone when we moved to Banbury the relationships we have built are through the children’s centres, the staff are so supportive and encouraging and know every child’s name. My kids adore the staff and love attending children centres reguarly, I feel that the children’s centres have played a vital part in my children’s development, I also ask for advice and feel I am always helped and listened to. I attended a course earlier this year ‘Webster stratton’ at Brittania road children’s centre my 4yr old changed completely and this has really helped my family. I am saddened to think that the children’s centres are in danger of closing the fact is people don’t realise how important these services are to all familys.