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Women as Change ECE Agents in Northern Ireland
July 18, 2002

"Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger." —Franklin P. Jones


At the 2002 World Forum in Auckland, New Zealand, Siobhan Fitzpatrick talked about the role women are playing in promoting change in the provision of educational services for young children. Siobhan's organization NIPPA- the Early Years Organization -- was founded 35 years ago by a group of local women concerned about the lack of preschool care and education for their children. Over the years, NIPPA has worked with women in hundreds of communities across Northern Ireland to promote change, growth and development in the early years. She brought this process alive by sharing the story of one group of women in a very small rural disadvantaged community, Pomeroy, in Northern Ireland:

"Pomeroy is a small rural divided community. In the late 1980s there were no services for children or families in the area - high levels of deprivation, low school performance, high levels of community violence and conflict. Supported by the NIPPA Early Years Specialist, a group of young parents were brought together to identify community needs. Over a period of a year they set in motion the development of a pre-school playgroup, rented unused property in the community, employed staff and began the process of developing a service for local children and families.

"The service was managed by parents and staffed by local parents. Over the years the service was supported to look at and develop the quality of their service and the range of support services they were providing in the local community.

"They now operate a High/Scope model of early intervention for pre-school children, run an afterschools programme and a parental support programme. Staff have moved from initial qualification to a degree in early education. They now receive statutory funding from the Department of Education and have leveraged in European and International Fund for Ireland money to buy their own building. There services now provided within the local community have enabled many parents to access training, employment and further education opportunities that otherwise would not have been available. Positive, collaborative relationships have been established with the local schools and health agencies and transition reports are recording marked improvements in educational and health outcomes for children.

"The Pomeroy story has not been always an easy one - the process of engaging parents in managing services has been often slow, the process of supporting staff has required enormous input from our organisation and enormous commitment from individuals who committed to a journey of ongoing training and professional development. The success of the project, managed by women has threatened the status quo within the community. Only this year our organisation supported them to take a High Court Action against the local Church who wanted the building back for Church related activities.

"What is significant in Pomeroy and other communities of women across Northern Ireland is that we now have a process and capacity to change within local communities and an infrastructure to support such capacity develop and move forward."

Siobhan Fitzpatrick's entire World Forum speech is now available online in the World Forum section of www.ChildCareExchange.com, along with over 30 other presentation texts and summaries from the 2001 and 2002 World Forums.


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