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It shapes our existence in ways that marriage, lottery wins, deaths, divorce and other adult (mis)fortunes can only come second to.
That early foundation is the basis from which we cope with, and react to, everything that comes after.
The mix of being cherished and cared for; of being sheltered from harm but taught to persevere; of learning to respect oneself and others; can be a challenge.
For parents struggling with not enough money, housing, time, their own unfinished youth, the difficulty of having themselves been born into unhelpful surroundings, this mix can feel like a burden.
This is the "trap" of poverty, neglect, abuse and loss.
Because once that die is cast, when an opportunity for change is presented, no matter how good a chance at a better life it offers, its advertised benefits will shrink under the shadows of the real, known, fear of failure.
That’s why in New Zealand there is such an investment in early childhood education such as Work and Income’s child care subsidy for 3-9 hours a week for low-to-middle income families and the Ministry of Education’s 20 free hours from the age of 3 (at participating centres, like the Mission’s Little Citizens in South Dunedin).
It’s why Methodist Mission Southern, in partnership with Associate Professor Dione Healey and the University of Otago, is delivering Engage.
The Engage programme is a tool for helping young children develop their ability to manage how they think, feel and behave at the right developmental time, to be used by teachers at several hundred early childhood education centres around the country, including here in Dunedin.
It’s why the Mission’s Little Citizens, like some other centres, provides up to three healthy meals a day, and a specialist support worker to assist families with some of the trickier stuff in life.
And it’s why, with families under pressure in ways they haven’t been since perhaps the late 1980s, this week’s Budget must address the cost-of-living issues being faced by so many.
Anything that makes it easier for families under pressure to provide that mix of love and guidance that all children need if they are to weather the ups and downs of life, needs to be taken with both hands.
- If you would like to support the Mission’s work with a donation, please visit www.givealittle.co.nz and search for The Methodist Mission