At this time of year, many people think of a particular story of one family who, in a context of political instability and fear, faced huge difficulties at the time of the birth of their first baby. This family faced many challenges including teenage pregnancy, a hasty marriage, and homelessness. At the critical time of the birth of her first baby, the young mother has to travel a long distance, and gives birth with no medical assistance in lodgings given by a stranger. Following the birth, the family for a while are refugees. Unable to return to their homeland they flee for their lives, seeking asylum and making their home in a new country, where they are safe for a number of years until it is safe to return home.
Perhaps you recognise this as an account of the birth of Jesus Christ. But elements of this 2,000-year-old story have been played out, time and time again, during 2016 in the lives of many, many families. Women, fleeing war and persecution, have given birth en route; thousands of families are homeless, stateless, and reliant on strangers for somewhere to live. Once again there have been some huge challenges, which have affected thousands of young children, with death and unrest witnessed in the UK and globally.
This year I have asked you to think with me about some of the wonderful things about working with young children: their play, their humour, their learning, their language and their fascinations with the things of the world that we adults often take for granted. I have also asked you to consider the impact on children of poverty, mental health, well-being, human rights and the impact of Brexit.
Talk of yet more legal and physical barriers to reinforce national borders has caused disturbing levels of unrest, and puts young children and their families in danger. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, the story of a child who would spend his earliest years as a refugee is a poignant reminder that the calm and security of their early years settings is important for young children whose lives are full of uncertainty. And early childhood practitioners are key figures of stability and safety in their young lives.
May I wish you peace this Christmas season and a new year of hope and unity.