A PUBLIC meeting has heard about the “devastating effect” the closure of a fund supporting the early years sector will have.
On Thursday, Home-Start Down District hosted the event in Ballynahinch’s Market House in response to recent news that the Pathway Fund, which provides financial support for pre-school educational opportunities, will cease in June.
A Home-Start statement said that over 60 people attended the meeting, which was chaired by Early Years, the body that administers the fund on behalf of the Department of Education. “Parents, local playgroups and staff met with politicians from across the political spectrum to tell them about the devastating effect the threatened closure of the Pathway Fund will have on the youngest and most vulnerable children across the district and to demand action to save it,” it read. “Home-Start Down District is one of seven local organisations in the old Down Council area that are funded by the Pathway Fund and are threatened with closure if that fund ceases in June. “With a grant of just £25,000, HomeStart runs nine groups every week across the district, offering quality education play opportunities to over 100 babies and children under four. “However, if the Pathway Fund closes at the end of June, all nine Home-Start groups will close, as potentially will the six other local pre-school playgroups.”
Home-Start manager Dorothy McMullan highlighted the adverse impact that closing the fund will have on women. “The Early Years Sector is largely staffed by women getting paid part-time hours and doing a full-time job, such is their commitment to children,” she said. “Those part-time women workers will lose their jobs if the fund closes – yet another blow to our local economy. “Most parents who attend our groups are women. “Women struggling with post-natal depression, with the cost-of-living crisis, who held their families together through Covid, caring for older relatives, homeschooling, keeping our vital services going. “These are the people who will be directly affected by these cuts. “Hundreds of children in our area will not get the chance to go to Home-Start groups or to pre-preschool. “They will suffer and I urge politicians to act now, because childhood cannot wait.”