Baby and Toddler Groups: A place for faith in action

Baby and toddler groups can play a central role in enabling churches to connect with and serve their local communities. They often attract people from a range of ages and backgrounds through offering an easy point of connection (the care of small children) and a warm welcome. These may be people who would not normally have anything to do with church.

Many who come to these groups are at a stage where they are facing significant changes and challenges in life. The responsibilities of parenthood may be overwhelming, there may be new financial pressures or family relationships may be strained or breaking down.

Given this, baby and toddler groups offer a huge opportunity for the church to go beyond a friendly welcome and to respond to specific needs within the community. Children’s centre closures mean that the difficulties faced by many carers, families and young children are less likely to be identified or talked about and those who are struggling to cope may feel increasingly isolated. Baby and toddler groups may be the one place where people with financial, mental health, housing or other needs are able to find support.

Increasingly churches are seeking to respond to this challenge through offering more focused forms of support and care. Instead of hoping that difficult topics will come up over coffee, groups like Wonderfully Made at St Paul’s in Banbury are giving short talks, raising issues around postnatal depression, anxiety and debt. The aim is to make sure that parents and carers know that they are not alone and that there are places where they can get support online and via charities such as Christians Against Poverty.

Victoria Morrell, part of the organising group at St Paul’s writes:

 ‘Our local children’s centres had closed, and as a result there were more and more mums looking for local, supportive, safe environments for their children to play, and to make friends and get support themselves………we were particularly concerned about the number of vulnerable mums coming with no support network at all.  As a group we are passionate about maternal mental health, breastfeeding, and creating a “village” of support……We wanted to be “real” with people and encourage each other to be open and honest about the struggles of parenting, as well as the joys.  We wanted to be able to share some of the wisdom we had picked up, and to be able to ask questions that we had no answers for…. each week we have a “think slot” where we talk about parenting, and we talk about God.  Sometimes that leads to great conversations, and sometimes it doesn’t.’ *

We know that other churches are also seeing baby and toddler groups as places where help, support and signposting to charities and services can be offered. As a Faith in Action team we’d like to find ways to connect our work on issues of loneliness, mental health, housing, rural isolation and the environment with these groups. We’d love to hear from you if you’d like to talk more….

 

Bethan Willis – bethan.willis@oxford.anglican.org

* You can read more about the Wonderfully Made group

Care for the Family is one place to begin thinking about the needs of young families and those caring for children