Wednesday evening. I sat at JFK waiting to board my flight back to Manchester looking forward to going home. Thoughts on the last four weeks,..
New York, is delirious, a full-on sensory overload, it doesn’t stop and keeps coming at you. I wonder how families cope with this and the lack of green space. The choice and availability for food is abundant, as I was writing up my blog the other day I was doing my laundry whilst sat next door in a pie and coffee shop eating freshly made breakfast rolls.
I am thinking about how lucky I am not having to worry about paying to see a doctor. There is public assistance and health care (Medicare) is most basic health care insurance. Some families over the threshold have to take on an extra job to fund the health insurance as it’s very expensive. You can’t turn on the tv without a health insurance advertisement for you and your loved ones, it hangs over the countries head. In some cases it could be as simple as not receiving cancer treatment.
As I fly out tonight government administration are resuming office.
I’ve had an extended summer enjoying hot weather in New York and in North Carolina. I’ve witnessed hard working dedicated people. The Americans only get 2 weeks annual leave with four main bank holidays, Labour day, Memorial Day Christmas and Thanksgiving. Most of these are only for one day. Most people start work at 7am which is normal. Americans take education very seriously, future prospects depend heavily on a good education and college and higher education is expensive. The inequality is visible with homelessness in most subway stations, and airports, homeless people prefer to sleep rough rather than hostels because they feel it safer. And something like 1% of people earn over 50% of the cities income!! At meetings you see huge flasks of some iced beverage. In the UK we have small cups of tea or coffee. A really funny observation where the UK has super sized is that we have massive plugs and keys, where in the US they have tiny plug sockets and really small sized house keys.
Direct comparisons between the UK and the USA with regards to early childcare is that the UK seems to have more of a universal choice of child care from 0-3 years. The National Education Grant is 15hrs free per week including tax credits from 3-5 years in the UK for wrap round care. In the US there is little choice of statutory day care from 0-3 although I did find some faith based centres where you can pay a fee calculated on your monthly budget. Head Start and Early Head Start is free to the most impoverished families in the city and relies on parents to help run it. Of course you see nannies and au-pairs pushing strollers in Central Park, Montessori and private day care start at $16-18k a year.
I knew before I came to the US that the most of family welfare services were delivered through NGO’s but I needed explore this by visiting a variety of different services.
Originally my research was enabling parental engagement – my premise being, if you have the parent you have the child. Thereby helping break the generational cycle of poverty to those who want to improve and transform their life chances and future prospects. I knew that Sure Start (1996) had been fashioned from Head Start but I didn’t fully understand the principles and how this looked in action especially with regards to family engagement. It became apparent very quickly that it was necessary to research the system from the top down, so less time was spent with the actual families and more with the professionals. However, where I did witness family/child/professional interaction, it was clear that Head Start does engage a higher percentage of their families than Children’s Centres in the UK.
The UK is policy driven and that influences practice. We signed the UN Conventions Rights of the Child 1989, the US is the only country in the world to have signed but not ratified the Act. Whereas, in the states I have witnessed more effective joined up working within the decentralised systems, and family support workers practice and refer to and implement these guidelines on a daily basis. It seems in the UK some frontline workers feel more detached from these policies.
We need to be more realistic in how we monitor outcomes with the resources we have. We also need to realise we can’t just except people to use the services because they are there. The NHS and the benefit system have absorbed most responsibilities from families and yet we need to rethink how we can utilise these services better.
I have picked up a lot of good tips and looking forward to writing up my report and sharing my findings with staff at other children centres.
I’m back home now! Not before dropping and smashing my bottle of duty free Bacardi at Leeds station (don’t worry Jo, your cigs are safe).Then the taxi broke down, smoking bonnet on Beeston Hill, so the driver called his cousin to bring me home, and now I’m locked out! In an hour I’ll see my children so I’m happy!
Thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust who has not only funded me but supported me with others and really made me believe that I can do this. Thank you Anne Boyd for suggesting to write a blog in the first place, it’s been a helpful tool that has kept me stay focused to my research and generally centred whilst away from my family.
Thanks to Tim for helping me find a place to stay – thanks Dave for letting me stay lovely to meet you. Big thanks to Nicole for being a brill flatmate and introducing me to Louis C.K (I’m your newest fan).
Thanks to everyone in all the Head Start community centres, charities, education establishments, everyone at CWOP, Bridge Builders, Rise Magazine for opening your doors to me. The experience has been invaluable and I really appreciate and understand time is precious especially when working with children and families. I feel like I have met some good friends for life.
Massive thanks you to Khari Garvin for being my guide and guardian whilst in North Carolina, you not only created my itinerary but made me experience the best of your warm Southern Hospitality. Thanks to everyone Khari put me in touch with, I know you really went out of your way to make this the best experience. I’ll never forget driving through the counties, listening to country music on the radio and eating barbecued Pulled Pork.
I’m indebted to Barney and my Mum for holding the fort and carrying on with my life without me for four weeks.
My best mate Bee, I wouldn’t have even found out about the fellowship if it hadn’t been for you!
And finally to my lovely children Stanley and Iona, thank you for supporting me too. I want you to know that you have inspired me to do this. Maybe some time in the future, you too may see something and try and make it better, to make a difference, even if it’s only small.