Speech by Sabina Higgins at “Preparing for Life”
Ballinasloe Health Centre, Co Galway
The 'Preparing for Life Programme' is a very ambitious and idealistic undertaking. I would like to express my admiration for the motivation and intentions of those involved in the planning of the initiative. It obviously required a lot of understanding of the issues involved and a lot of cross consultation and cooperation by many different organisations.
I would like to acknowledge the dedication of the facilitators and participants: Irene Murphy, Youth Work Ireland, Galway and Dr. Evelyn Parsons, Gerry Hone & Susan Forde, Tusla, Niall Sexton and Maeve Gately of Preparing for Life Programme. I would also like to acknowledge the educators, home visitors, youth workers and support staff who are driven by a deep passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and families and on whom the success of the programme will depend.
We must appreciate the work done by the Geary Institute UCD for developing the Preparation for Life Programme and Darendale for putting it into operation with apparently good results. That can give confidence to all involved in the Ballinasloe programme and to hopes it will prove very successful.
It is now fully understood and acknowledged that the start of, and first years, of a child’s life are the most important in the health and development that it is during their formative years that a child’s brain is rapidly absorbing knowledge and experience that will shape their development – their perceptions, behaviours and capabilities. We are so indebted to the United Nations World Health Organisation for the scientific work they have done in this area – for instance in the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months to give baby the very best start in life for health nourishment and development etc. before weaning on to solids and breastmilk and drinks.
Regretfully in Ireland we have the lowest breastfeeding numbers in Europe. In Europe some countries are up to 80% or 90%. There are many efforts being taken by many HSE midwives and voluntary support organisations but in the surveys undertaken, it comes down to not having Midwives that are qualified lactation experts in our hospitals or in the community and mothers say that midwives are too busy , are overworked and cannot give the time a mother may need to establish latching on successfully. The HSE haven’t got programmes or ads showing mothers breastfeeding while unaccountable corporations have regular misleading ads on television advertising bottle feeding with formula. These ads are banned in many countries but not Ireland.
At its core, Preparing for Life is about providing families with the support that they need. It is about nurturing the potential of our youngest citizens, from the very beginning of their life journey, from pre-birth up to the stage of primary school entry, ensuring that they are ready for the journey of education that awaits them.
The programme recognises that school readiness encompasses a holistic view of children's development, encompassing five critical areas: cognitive development, language development, approaches to learning, social and emotional development, and physical well-being and motor development. These elements together lay the foundation upon which our children can build their future, encompassing the skills that children acquire as they explore the world around them, cultivating a love for learning that will serve them throughout their lives.
I was involved in setting up parent’s councils in primary schools and secondary and believe parents need all the support they can get with their parenting, so I think this programme will be of immense help and support to all parents and I hope they will all take the benefits of it. Of course there are some parents for whom the supports offered by this programme would be of particular benefit. Discussing with parents the different stages of the child’s cognitive development and language development approaches to learning, social and emotional development as set out would be very welcome and helpful.
It is critical to recognise that not all families have access to the resources and support they need to provide their children with the best start in life. The journey to quality education begins at home and that is precisely where the preparing for life home visiting programme may be of great benefit.
No 10 of the Sustainable Development Goals has prioritised the reduction of inequality inside counties. We in Ireland and in the world are not making sufficient progress in addressing poverty and social exclusion. In 2022, 188,602 children lived in households that were below the poverty line and 247,500 children lived in households experiencing deprivation. There has been the establishment of the child poverty and well-being programme office which is welcome, but child poverty does not exist in a vacuum, children live in families, households and societies. They are impacted by the physical environment in which they live. Real strategic action is required to make meaningful progress in reducing child poverty and improving children’s wellbeing.
All human beings have the same set of basic needs that must be satisfied in order to survive and thrive, think for themselves and participate in society. In a democracy, we are all responsible for ensuring that everyone’s basic needs are met. The state is responsible for public services. Those are housing, health, education, transport and communication.
How wonderfully successful this Prepartion for life would be if it could be ensured that every child had a living in a secure home and a family where all its needs were met, in its housing, food, heat, with all its basic necessities and in sufficiency.
If children had the security and opportunities they need, there is no doubt that they would not resort to crime etc. fall through the cracks and would have fulfilling lives.