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First Step Breakfast Mum says closure of charity’s education service deprives parents of ‘vital’ support

PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:26 15 September 2020

Sarah Burlison (Dorrian) - pictured alongside fellow Breakfast Mums Andrea Guiney, Samantha Black, Sinead Miller and Lisa Stevens - has voiced concern regarding the closure of the First Step education service. Photo: April Roach

Sarah Burlison (Dorrian) - pictured alongside fellow Breakfast Mums Andrea Guiney, Samantha Black, Sinead Miller and Lisa Stevens - has voiced concern regarding the closure of the First Step education service. Photo: April Roach

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The closure of First Step’s education service deprives parents of a “vital” lifeline, according to one mother whose son previously attended sessions with the Hornchurch charity.

Mark Halls, chief executive of children's charity First StepMark Halls, chief executive of children's charity First Step

Sarah Burlison — creator of the Breakfast Mums video, made to support the charity — says families face an “awful” situation this year.

This comes after the recent announcement that First Step could no longer afford to fund the provision of childcare to around 30 youngsters aged two to four with special educational needs or disabilities.

Sarah dreads to think what would have happened had her son Finlay not be able to attend the service two days a week when he was two-and-a-half.

Born with Williams syndrome, the now seven-year-old prepared for school by attending First Step alongside mainstream nursery, something which really helped his development.

The entire family had a relationship with the charity prior to this, however, first getting involved with its family sessions when Finlay was diagnosed at three-months-old: “I still remember my first time at the sessions. There was a woman with a severely disabled child. At first it scared me, but then I heard her talking with another mother about going out that weekend.

“Just hearing that made me realise that my life isn’t over. It was my first encounter with other parents who I felt really understood.”

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She also brought older son Connor to the sibling club to allow the youngster, now 12, to “meet other kids who had a sibling with a disability”.

Above all, First Step is responsible for giving Sarah her biggest support network — the Breakfast Mums.

A core group of six, each is the mother of a child with a distinct specialist need, with the group created after Finlay started attending the education service.

Sarah says that, without First Step, she wouldn’t have the friends who have helped her through some of her “hardest moments”.

The loss of this supportive network should not be underestimated: “Even if they move the children into other nurseries that does not solve the issue of parental support, which is just as vital.”

In a statement, Havering Council leader Cllr Damian White, said:

“Since the announcement of closure, the council has moved to provide reassurance and support to the families affected. The vast majority of children that would have returned to First Step this term are already known to the council, and we are following up the other residents through our health contacts, as well as liaising with First Step to ensure that no family is left behind.”

A petition to reinstate the service’s funding is already on its way to 2,000 signatures.

To add your name, visit change.org/p/havering-council-funding-to-be-reinstated-for-first-steps.


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