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Opinion: 'Princess of Wales Kate Middleton's Shaping Us baby photo campaign may have backing of Beckhams but Sure Start was better for children'





Celebrities have been dipping into their family albums and sharing some childhood snaps online.

While the virtual Guess Who game is somewhat ruined by their public profiles - the candid pictures trickling out from the likes of the Beckhams, Amanda Holden and Fearne Cotton are supporting the Princess of Wales' campaign Shaping Us, and the importance of positive early childhood experiences, writes columnist Lauren Abbott.

Kate Middleton's baby photo
Kate Middleton's baby photo

A short film Her Royal Highness is also championing, out this week in cinemas, demonstrates how brains develop faster between birth and five than at any other time and therefore how crucial experiences in our formative years are.

Putting aside that Shaping Us sounds more like an uncomfortable underwear range - families don't need a star-studded 'awareness campaign' from the future Queen and a YouTube short to hammer home the importance of early childhood - we need a resurrection of the immensely successful Sure Start scheme and it's frustrating the Princess and her celeb friends won't lend their influential voices to it.

Catherine has failed to mention there once was an entire system dedicated to those critical years - and anyone invited to these glitzy events has failed to ask anyone where it went.

Launched in 1998 by Gordon Brown the aim of Sure Start was to give children the 'best possible start in life' through good quality childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on community work.

Thousands of children's centres followed - and not just in deprived areas - giving all families with babies and toddlers to raise access to help, support and crucially experts.

The Princess of Wales Picture: Geoff Robinson Photography
The Princess of Wales Picture: Geoff Robinson Photography

But then the age of austerity came, and for Sure Start seemingly never ended, and it has been decimated by successive governments with many of the last children's centres left clinging on now trying to bat away the axe above their head.

Sure Start was THE solution to all the problems the Princess is raising. A staggering £450 million got it off the ground, it was evidence-based, focused help and was backed by experts trained to offer support to families in all the fields she's now telling us parents we must focus on. So why won't she talk about its demise?

And what a wasted opportunity to not direct attention - or money - to the communities now fighting to cling onto the last of their children's community services.

When my children were very tiny I had cause to ask our children's centre for help twice - once with a weening baby gaining no weight and a second time with a toddler who, not reliant on dummies or bottles, developed a puzzling yet endearing lisp out of the blue.

On both occasions, drop-in sessions welcoming tens of local families daily, gave me the swift practical help and reassurance needed with no need to clog up my surgery's phone lines, the NHS and/or wait months for appointments.

'The biggest impact Kate or any of these famous faces could have would be to talk about the children's services being destroyed...'

The royal family might not 'do politics' but you can't say our children's early years need help and simultaneously ignore the damage done to the very scheme designed for the purpose.

A screen shot of Beckham kicking a ball is an easy marketing win for her Royal patronage - but when close to 30% of children's centres in his home city have closed in the last decade surely someone with a platform the size of Becks' could do more than share his football skills age five? The same applies to any of the celebrities with huge followings doing nothing more than sharing a baby pic of themselves in the last week.

Royal watchers say the Princess wants her impact on the early years sector to be her legacy. The Royal Foundation's Centre for Early Childhood promises research and collaboration in order to achieve 'transformative societal impact'.

Now in practical terms I'm not sure what any of that means but the biggest impact Kate or any of these famous faces could have would be to talk about the children's services being destroyed and perhaps lend support to getting them back.

What do you think? Let us known in the comment section below.



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