Putting children first to give them the best start in Leeds

Youngsters at Chapeltown Children's Centre
Youngsters at Chapeltown Children's Centre
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More than 50 children’s centres offer support and advice to families in Leeds to make sure youngsters have the best possible start in life.

Shanawar Mohamedi has flourished since he started visiting Chapeltown Children’s Centre.

The one-year-old is a regular visitor to the centre’s stay and play sessions with his mum Laila.

And the proud mum, who lives in Harehills, says her little boy’s confidence has grown since their first visit a few months ago.

Laila said: “He likes everything and loves to play.

“He’s come on since he started to come here and he is more confident.

“I’m happy because my child is happy.”

The tot is just one of thousands of children who receives support from the city’s network of children’s centres.

There are 54 children’s centres across 57 different sites in Leeds.

And they offer a wide range of services to make sure youngsters have the best possible start in life.

Over half offer childcare on site for youngsters and most of them offer full day care facilities for working families.

They also signpost families to support services such as advice about jobs, benefits and healthcare.

And the specialist centres are set to open their doors to thousands of extra children in September.

Nearly £12m of funding has been approved for free early education places for eligible two-year-olds in the 2014-15 budget in Leeds.

The money will support the development and creation of an additional 1,750 early education and childcare places for vulnerable children.

It will also pay providers so that up to 3,750 free 15 hours places are taken up by youngsters from September.

The scheme is also expected to create an additional 500 jobs for childcare workers.

And Chapeltown Children’s Centre is set to be one of those offering extra support to families.

Centre manager Lizzie Haigh said: “We can literally do almost anything a parent would need support for.

“We have drop-in groups for parents who meet other mums and dads and learn about child development.

“It also helps to break that isolation from home.

“We have a lot of parents who don’t speak English as a first language so we have special courses so that parents can learn the language.

“We always work with families to make sure that children have the best outcomes.”

And supporting the Child Friendly Leeds initiative is at the heart of the centre’s work.

The YEP recently teamed up with Leeds City Council in a major new partnership to champion the rights of our city’s children.

The campaign aims to ensure that youngsters in Leeds have the best possible start to life.

Lizzie added:“Being a child friendly city is at the heart of what children’s centres do.

“It’s the bread and butter of our services.

“We make sure that we put children at the front of everything we do.”

Anne Kearsley, Leeds City Council’s head of children’s centres, is responsible for helping to provide those additional places for eligible two-year-olds in Leeds.

She said: “We already provide free places for three and four year olds and this will help us to increase that offer.

“We will have around 3,000 children taking up places by Christmas.

“The benefits of youngsters have early education are absolutely huge.

“It means a good early start for children and it means they progress well when they are three and four to ensure they are ready for learning when they go to school.

“We know about every baby that is born in Leeds.

“And we need to get to those families who need our support the most.

“We give families support to make sure that children get the best early start to life.

“Families absolutely love us and that is because we are there for them and we have an expertise in children under five.

“We know about health car and early education and it is all about our relationship with families.”

And supporting parents is at the heart of the scheme.

Councillor Judith Blake, executive member for children’s services, added: “This programme is so much more than just about free childcare.

“It is about providing skills for life, not just for the children but for the parents too.

“Not only does it enable parents to learn important parenting skills, it has also been proven to raise aspirations in those who take part.

“Children’s centres have proved to be a vital resource to families with young children across the city since they first opened eight years ago building on the previous Surestart centres.

“And despite the current economic situation nationally, here in Leeds we have been able to keep all 57 of our children’s centres open.”

l For more information visit www.familyinformationleeds.co.uk.

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