Education news

Sure Start keeps families busy at home during pandemic

Sure Start mum Sarah Duncan from east Belfast with her three boys

CENTRES that support parents with children aged under four and living in disadvantaged areas are providing extra help to families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sure Start projects across the north offer various programmes to support a child's learning skills, health and well-being and social and emotional development.

Its aim is to provide continuing assistance to help children do well at school and flourish at home.

There are 38 Sure Start centres commissioned and supported by the Health and Social Care Board and funded by the Department of Education.

A range of Sure Start programmes have been redesigned specifically during the current Covid-19 lockdown and are being presented online or via social media.

They include Rhythm, Rhyme & Story Time; Shakers, Movers and Groovers which encourages dancing and Ready, Steady Go games facilitated by speech and language therapists using a video blog promoting the development of attention and listening skills for kids.

Mother of three boys, Sarah Duncan from east Belfast, has been using her local Sure Start services for the past few years. Her two youngest boys are now in the programme.

When the lockdown began, Ms Duncan said she was worried about how her boys would cope being out of their routine.

"I was really anxious and worried about Covid-19 as we all are, but I was also worried about how the boys would cope with the change of education, structure and being in the house all day with no set routine. My two youngest boys have ASD and additional needs so it probably gave me a bit more of a worry on how we would cope," she said.

"I really needn't have worried, East Belfast Sure Start were straight on the ball. First of all we received phone calls from their key workers asking how we were and if there was anything we needed.

"Then WhatsApp groups were set up for each of their classes such as bedtime stories, it was great the boys were able to see their key workers and brought back some normality to us. We are getting phone calls from their key workers every week just to check in and to see if we need anything. Then Zoom calls were set up. The boys were able to see their classmates and able to sing along with songs and that routine is really good."

Sure Start also provides workshops for parents.

"I also attend an `additional needs' for parents workshop every week. We have been able to keep this going through a WhatsApp group," Ms Duncan said.

"Sure Start all have their own families at home but they are all still there to help us out. They have gone way beyond expectations, they are there when we need them, they're keeping our kids entertained and they are doing a brilliant job."

Kevin Duggan, Sure Start Lead from the Health and Social Care Board said the programme had been at the heart of communities for two decades.

"They provide vital health, family support and early education services to over 36,000 families," he said.

"In this time of crisis they evolved and innovated using many virtual tools. Importantly, Sure Start has also maintained vital face to face contact with many families through “garden gate visits” adhering to social distancing while at same time providing parenting support and practical resources from food parcels to play and parenting resources. In the most challenging of times family support services such as this have never been so important."

East Belfast Sure Start Manager, Tracey Wilson said she was proud of her staff's work.

"They are working around the clock to ensure families are supported both through our new online tools and services, but critically maintaining were possible our real world services to meet the needs of all families."

:: To learn more about Sure Start go to

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