I tweeted at the end of last week about the young Mum of a child at my nursery. She had approached me wanting a voluntary placement of 9 hours a week so she could do an apprenticeship in Childcare through a local college. The placement would be her work experience and she would also attend college part time. Today I rang the college to check what forms she and I need to fill in. The course adviser was very apologetic and told me that since last week the ability to do a voluntary placement for an apprenticeship had been cut. She would have to do a paid placement. I can’t afford to take on another member of staff, even at apprenticeship rates. So she can’t do her placement with me. She could go elsewhere if someone will take her on a paid placement. But nurseries who advertise this are open 10 hours a day and expect staff to work a 40 hour week. This is why it is worth their while paying apprenticeship rates of £100 per week. This young woman can’t work a 40 hour week even during term time as she has a 4 year old child and no suitable family to help out.
The young mum is 20 years old. The child’s father is a heroin addict and has been in and out of prison twice in the 18 months I have known the family. The Mum has struggled from time to time with parenting her daughter. This is hardly surprising. I was 26 when I had my eldest, had the support of a husband who was in work and had no substance abuse problems, occasional support from grandparents and a flat which we could (just about) pay the mortgage on. I struggled at times to cope with the responsibilities of being a parent. This young Mum lives in a 2 bedroom council flat with her daughter. When her partner is out of prison there is a honeymoon period when he wants to see the child and be a decent father – this will be related to the fact that he is ‘clean’ when he comes out. Then, because he mixes with the same crowd, he starts ‘using’ again and becomes unreliable. Mum then stops him seeing his daughter. This affects the child and she becomes difficult for Mum to manage and Mum feels depressed making it more difficult still for her to cope. Mum cannot make a clean break from her partner because he is the father of her child and she probably loves him and she hopes he will change. Added to all this pressure, the child’s maternal grandmother recently moved herself into the flat because she had split up with her boyfriend. The grandmother is an alcoholic and stayed up late being very noisy, swearing and drinking which affected the child and the young Mum. This went on for three months.
There have been some positives for this family; free nursery education has meant that the child gets a chance to play, make friends, learn and be treated with kindness and consistency by adults who DO know where the next meal is coming from. Because the child attends nursery we have been able to ‘signpost’ Mum to the local SureStart children’s centre and all the services they co-ordinate. We managed to get an Early Years visitor to make regular visits to the home and support her in many ways: dealing with the fallout from her partner’s addiction, healthy eating, routines, providing the grandmother with enough advice and a an assertive word or two to get her out and find her own accommodation. Through the nursery, Mum now attends a weekly Family Learning course, funded by the Local Education Authority where she learns more about the curriculum and how to help her child to learn, be more independent, communicate well and be happy.
This young Mum has taken all the help and advice she has been offered and is really trying to turn her life around. She has had a lot of support from the State. It was money well spent. Now, because of cuts made by the new Coalition government, she cannot do her part-time apprenticeship and gain valuable work experience. She won’t get a paid job because there simply aren’t any jobs for a 20 year old who has no qualifications or work experience, which fit in with school hours and are flexible enough to cover her child’s sickness. She is stuck on benefits for the foreseeable future. When her daughter starts school in two month’s time, she will be expected to work. Her housing benefit will be cut after a year. She can’t afford to live on less than she gets at the moment. What will become of her?
Added 9th July 2010: The college spoke to the young Mum today and explained she could no longer do a voluntary placement for an apprenticeship. She could do a full time course but because she is over 19 years old, there is no longer full funding for her. The course fees are £200.00. She was upset and disappointed when she told me she didn’t have the money and would therefore not be able to do the course or the apprenticeship.
Luckily for this young Mum, someone who heard her story via Twitter has come forward and offered to pay her course fees. When I told her she was so grateful it moved me to tears. Thank goodness she will now be able to make a step towards turning her life around. It shouldn’t depend on luck and individual generosity though; we need a Big State to help vulnerable people.