Early years minister visits CrossReach Daisy Chain

Scotland's Minister for Childcare and Early Years Mark McDonald MSP praised a CrossReach early years project for its work with children in Govanhill, Glasgow, saying he found it “very valuable” to hear from staff and see children from different backgrounds playing together.

Daisy Chain
Children play together at the CrossReach Daisy Chain project, based at Glasgow Elim Pentecostal Church in Govanhill.

Created by the Church of Scotland’s social care arm CrossReach, the Daisy Chain early years project supports families with young children by hosting play sessions and offering support in a safe, accepting environment. Once trust has been built, staff can then encourage parents to take up medical or other services for their children.

“We know the early years are tremendously important,” said Liann Weir, Daisy Chain’s service manager. “They are really crucial to children’s development and their early experiences set them up for the rest of their lives.

“So we work really hard with children and families to make sure they have activities and services and supports that give them that best possible start in life.”

Daisy Chain: "Like a blessing"

Home to a large population of newcomer families, the majority of them from Eastern Europe, Govanhill is famous for its colourful storefronts and its ethnic diversity. Yet more than 50 percent of children in the area are living in poverty and families are often living in overcrowded homes and struggling to survive.

At Daisy Chain children can spread their wings in a spacious play space, equipped with play structures, paints, books and toys that support their development. During the minister’s visit the children play happily as their parents tell Mr McDonald about some of the challenges they are dealing with.

“I have some problems with my elder boy who has delayed speech, and may have autism,” said Verde Sameen, who came to Scotland two years ago from Pakistan. “So I talked to the team here and they are showing me how I can get extra support.

“Daisy Chain is like a blessing for me. People like us don’t have a lot of relatives or friends here but I meet people here and the staff give me new ideas for activities. They are like a family to us. I feel at home here.”

Claire MacLachlan nestled her newborn as she talked to Mr McDonald about her three years attending Daisy Chain.

“It’s a great place to come and we feel very privileged to have a place here. It’s an opportunity to play with your wee one without being disturbed. There is no pressure and there are people to talk to. In a tenement you don’t really speak to people and it can be quite isolating. From coming here I discovered another mum who lived near me and has a young child so it really opens up access to communicating and meeting people.

“I make sure we get here every week because I feel so privileged to have a place here. I know there is a waiting list. It’s a really welcoming place and the staff here are lovely. I can’t speak highly enough of this place. It’s fantastic.”

A first step toward key social services

Often newcomer families simply don’t know where to go for medical and social support services, staff told the minister. At the same time, certain communities, such as the Romanian and Slovakian Roma, typically avoid contact with agencies they see as an arm of government.

“I think a lot of families don’t trust public services,” said Viv Dickenson, CrossReach’s director of Children and Families Services. “It may feel like quite an intimidating thing to do, but if they come here and play, they get to know the workers and we can help them navigate into them.

“So we can introduce a child into a nursery or to a health visitor service, and being that gateway is one of the most important things we can do.”

Govanhill has wonderful nurseries and services, staff told Mr McDonald, but they have long waiting lists and many of the families who come to Daisy Chain, need more immediate support.

Yet while the government has pledged to serve vulnerable toddlers, local authorities can’t refer to community-based services such as Daisy Chain, because, despite their expertise with hard to reach families, they are not nurseries.

Mr McDonald assured staff he would look at how to improve coordination across the early years.

“If things were easy to fix we would have fixed them by now so there obviously a number of systemic things that need to be addressed—but that shouldn't hold us back from doing what we can,” he said.

“It involves the third sector and it's going to involve local authorities so obviously the Scottish Government will have to coordinate that.”

The minister left saying he will take a close look at how public services, social enterprises and third-sector services like Daisy Chain can work together to improve life chances for children.

"I've really enjoyed my visit today to the Daisy Chain CrossReach and I think it's been very valuable for me to see first-hand the work that goes on here,” Mr McDonald said.

“A couple of issues were raised with me during the course of my visit and it was very valuable for me to hear from the workers here at the project who are dealing first hand with these issues and hear some of their suggestions about the work that could be done by the Scottish Government.

"I'll now take some of that away and discuss with my officials how we can perhaps deal with some of those issues, which exist here in Govanhill and in other parts of Scotland as well."

The largest social care provider in the country in the country outside of the Scottish government, CrossReach was created by Church of Scotland members to care for people in need as an expression of Christian love. Its mission includes providing residential care for elderly people, support services for people with disabilities, drug and alcohol treatment to people struggling with substance misuse and counselling and support to children, youth and families dealing with difficult life circumstances.

CrossReach also runs innovative programmes such as Daisy Chain which work in some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities.

Daisy Chain is partly funded through the Scottish Government Children, Young People and Families Early Intervention Fund.