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Criticism for funding cuts to early years sessions

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By Abbey Morton
Annan and Eskdale
Criticism for funding cuts to early years sessions

SERVICES for society’s youngest members are the latest casualties in the council’s cuts.

Huge saving requirements mean there was no funding available for Early Years Scotland (EYS) to provide sessions across the region.

And as Dumfries and Galloway Council aim to save £7.68 million this year alone, the move has come under fire.

Jean Carwood-Edwards of EYS explained that last year they received £156,000 to provide sessions such as baby massage, messy play and stay, play and learn.

She said: “We were at the budget meeting and it wasn’t mentioned at any point and we were thinking we were saved.

“But now it looks like we’ve just been completely cut.

“They have been very nice but we are just so disappointed.

“We know it is a huge amount of money but it really is a drop in the ocean relative to the benefit to families.

“What happens in the early years is really indicative for the future.”

She explained the sessions are about trying to close the attainment gap and the best way to tackle that is by parental engagement.

Speaking in support of the EYS services, which have been established locally for 20 years, new mum to 16-week-old Sophie, Debz Walker said: “I think it is important for new mums to bond with their babies in a variety of ways and settings with the guidance of lead professionals in activities such as baby massage, messy play and singing nursery rhymes.

“These classes not only benefit our future generation but it allows mums to come together and meet others who have babies at a similar stage.

“In addition, it helps aid the health and wellbeing of new mums by getting out of the house at a time when things can be new, overwhelming and a bit daunting.”

Last year EYS supported 1546 children from 1340 families across Dumfries and Galloway.

As well as offering group sessions they work one-to-one with families who are referred to them as they are experiencing some kind of difficulty or disadvantage.

Ms Carwood-Edwards said: “£156K is nothing compared to what they’re going to have to spend because families may be accessing other services such as social work and health.

“I don’t want to bad mouth them but I just think it really is a wrong decision. We know how many children and families access it and how many people benefit from it. We know that for every £1 we spend in early years we save £7-9 in later years.”

And blasting the council, mum Toni Keith, of Barnhill, Dumfries, said: “It is a disgrace that they want to take away such a valued and valuable service such as early years and all the work they do for new mums/dads/carers.

“This is invaluable to the development of children.”

A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Council commented that many families have benefited from the EYS sessions and the group has supported some very vulnerable families.

He said: “However, the long term evidence does not support the suggestion by Early Years Scotland that their services have reduced the number of children on the child protection register or who are looked after.

“Given the current financial climate and continuing need to meet significant and on precedented reductions across council budgets it has not been possible to continue to fund baby massage and stay and play sessions.

“Elected members have had to make difficult decisions and prioritise the most vulnerable and, as outlined in our council’s plan, we are targeting resources at the most vulnerable in our communities.”

He also explained that unprecedented investment in Early Learning and Childcare over the last four years and the imminent doubling of provision have refocused our early years profiles in line with Scottish Government expectations.

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