Can Europe Make It?

Children’s centres and integration

Children’s centres in the United Kingdom are a perfect institution to stimulate contact between different groups and therefore help the integration of minorities.  

Turkay Salim Nefes
31 July 2016

Prince of Wales talks to children during a visit to Haggerston Girls School in Hackney, east London, 2003. Empics entertainment/ Press Association. All rights reserved.International terrorism along religious lines poses questions about the integration of minority groups in the developed world. Indeed, some of the attacks are carried out by home grown terrorists. Most recently, two suicide bombers in the Brussels airport attack were Belgian citizens. This article suggests that one way of decreasing the possibility of homegrown terrorism is by facilitating a better integration of minorities. I believe this could be achieved by public services. In the United Kingdom, children’s centres provide an excellent example.

Let me explain how. The scholarship on ethnic relations and prejudice has long verified the positive effects of contact among majority and minority groups. Expanding on Allport’s (1958) classical study, The Nature of Prejudice, they show that contact between the members of majority and minority groups decrease the level of prejudice and hostility between groups. Allport underlines that the effective contact is an equal status interaction sanctioned by social institutions, such as by law or norms. It facilitates a realisation of common interests and humanity between the members of different groups. Studies from various developed countries inform policymakers to focus on intergroup contact stimulating measures.

Children’s centres in the United Kingdom are a perfect institution to stimulate contact between different groups and therefore help the integration of minorities. For unfamiliar readers, children’s centres provide a free service for children under five and their families, including support from various professionals and play activities.

After regularly attending three children’s centres in Oxford for 14 months, I am convinced that that they are perfect venues for intergroup contact. The nature of contact that I have witnessed there met all the criteria recommended by Allport. First, parents and children from different ethnic and religious backgrounds are involved in an equal status interaction. Second, this has the institutional support of the council. Third, new parents communicate with each other in a way that helps to create a realisation of the common humanity between people of different backgrounds, because they all face the similar challenges of parenthood. All these facilitate positive contact among parents and children. It helps not only to raise a generation that will make the most of diversity but also enables the integration of minorities and reduces prejudice. Children’s centres can help wipe out the social roots of ethno-religious hostility to create a peaceful future.    

I am ending this humble suggestion with a sad note that most of the children’s centres in Oxford will be closed in September 2016. I am of the opinion if we want to build a peaceful future, more centres should be opened, particularly in ethnically and religiously diverse places, not only in the United Kingdom but also all around the world. This is only an indirect benefit of these centres, but someone with better knowledge in child development could explain their more obvious benefits.

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