Sure Start provides the perfect platform for preventing abuse

By Cllr Michael Pavey, Brent Council

Abuse is now so endemic that only 40% of young women believe that it is possible to create a society free from violence against women and girls. We are no longer just fighting abuse - we are also fighting the despairing belief that abuse is inevitable. So it's time for a cultural fightback.

The Dare2Care campaign is the start of that fightback. There is so much we can do today. A third of young women aged 13-17 have experienced sexual violence in a relationship. We can massively increase awareness of the signs of abuse so that friends can better look out for each other. Three quarters of young women aged 11-21 fear sexual harassment. We can ensure that every young woman is crystal clear about her rights and where to report harassment. And we can lobby hard for policy changes to reverse the normalisation of aggressive pornography.

But a true cultural fightback isn't just about empowering and supporting victims. It's about tackling the problem at the roots. No child is born an abuser. Abusive actions are the ugly byproduct of abusive experiences. Neglect, witnessing abuse - or suffering it firsthand: this is a dark circle which endlessly repeats itself. And it is a circle rooted in the earliest years of a child's life.

Physical and psychological evidence is conclusive: a child's life chances and experiences are determined in her first two years. If we can end abuse and neglect in these formative years, we can break the cycle. If we can replace abuse and neglect in these formative years with nurture and love, we can make a truly transformational change.

Nurture means support, affirmation and exposure to positive role models. But it also means teaching children boundaries and respect. Love isn't just a soppy ideal: attachment, bonding and the warmth of company are all absolutely critical to the healthy development of young children.

Nurture and love should be universal in children's upbringing. But they aren't. And this generates problems. A strong social and emotional bedrock in the first eighteen months of a child's life gives them security for the rest of her life. Trauma in these same months will create a life of trauma.

Ultimately we will end abuse by ensuring that every child is nurtured and loved. To do that we need to encourage all families to access high quality parenting support. And that support will need to be delivered in safe, accessible places. Fortunately the perfect infrastructure already exists: a national network of community-based, welcoming centres specifically designed to foster multi-agency working. Sure Start Children's Centres.

Sure Start Centres are the perfect infrastructure to support young families in nurturing and expressing love for their children. Beautiful new buildings located in the heart of communities, known by professionals and trusted by families. In a recent survey, 90% of families said Sure Start had positively impacted upon their child. That trust is built upon the Sure Start ethos: not compulsory, not punitive and, above all, not judgemental - Sure Start is intervention by consent. That makes it the perfect place to raise difficult issues like abuse, respect and boundaries.

So Sure Start Centres are an ideal place to break the cycle of abuse. As accessible community facilities they are well-suited to immediately host initiatives to share experiences and to raise awareness. And as trusted family hubs they are perfect places to start long term dialogues with families to support and encourage their parenting skills.

This can only be achieved if the relentless cuts to Sure Start end. Government funding for Sure Start has halved since 2010, forcing the closure of hundreds of Children's Centres. Sure Start is now approaching a tipping point where the remaining budget and network of Centres is becoming insufficient to deliver the services that communities rely upon.

Under relentless budgetary pressure, Sure Start has long been searching for new impetus: a fresh vision to reinvigorate its purpose. The Dare2Care campaign offers a perfect opportunity. Abuse, especially of children, is an evil cancer which demands both immediate and long term action. It's time for a cultural fightback - and Sure Start provides the perfect platform.