Today was, in my opinion, one of the most fun places we visited on the trip! We visited the Ladywood Family Center, a childcare center located in West Smethwick.
Although this location would be compared to a preschool or childcare center in the United States, it was nothing like childcare I had ever seen before. In the US, most parents who cannot afford to send their children to daycare before they reach kindergarten must make other arrangements. Oftentimes many churches in neighborhoods offer care, but the spaces are not designed for children in mind, and more so temporary arrangements. Here in the UK, families that are eligible are offered more than 15 hours of free nursery education per week, starting at age 3, in places such as Ladywood.
The inside of Ladywood looked nothing like what I had expected. The facility was quite large, with multiple rooms dedicated to space for the children. There were 3 separate play areas filled with a variety of toys, from ones to help refine fine motor skills to those that challenged students to think. There was also a library filled with books to ease parents into the environment before sending them and their kids off to visit the Birmingham Public Library. The room I was most impressed by was the sensory room. I had never seen a childcare center, or even many of the elementary schools in my hometown, have a room fully dedicated to students with disabilities. The accommodations ranged from lights to even aluminum that made crinkling noises.
The building served not just as a safe place for children, but also a place for families to grow and learn. Programs at the facility had a wide range, from programs where parents could come in and spend time playing with their children and learning how to foster their skills, to spending time in the fully equipped kitchen learning how to cook healthy meals for their families on a low budget. It really felt that the staff who worked there had a serious interest in helping better the community they served and help break cycles to encourage healthier lifestyles.
While looking at the demographics of the community of Smethwick, I was interested to see that 53% of children’s first language was not English in the area. For not a very large town, the area was quite diverse! My project group had a chance to speak to Lauren and Rashida, who were able to tell us about all the accommodations that they made for their service users. It was so nice to see that while slowly teaching kids English, to ease their transitions into primary school and prepare them for the working world, individual cultures and languages were celebrated. Even parents who came in with their kids were encouraged to use their mother tongue and celebrate many different holidays. They also sometimes used parents to help translate for others, which really fostered a great inter-communal environment. In the US, I sometimes really feel that people feel so rushed to learn English that they lose connections to languages that have such an importance to them, and it was great to see that celebrated here.
We also had a lecture with Sally Parker, Sally Andrews, and Birgit Forster about the role of social work in communities and the impact of teamwork. It was so interesting to be able to hear from someone classified as an expert by experience, because lived experiences are sometimes so much greater than just the things you read in a book. There were two large things that I took away from the lecture: firstly, Sally stated that one of the main reasons that she was able to get help with her son and manage his diagnosis was because her health visitor actually listened to her. I know it is very common in healthcare to feel that you are not being heard or advocated for, and it can be extremely frustrating. As a future nurse, I one day hope to be that person who makes people feel like they are in good hands, and encourages the professionals around me to do the same. Finally, the quote “nothing about us without us”. This was so powerful to me, outside of just a lens of disability. It really highlights the importance of the need for representation, for people to see others who look like them excelling and truly reaching their goals. They also deserve to have people who truly can relate to their experiences having a say in creating the policies that will have a big impact on their lives. Again, I hope I can be a role model for someone else in the future.