David Burrowes is Executive Director of the Manifesto to Strengthen Families and was MP for Enfield Southgate from 2005-2017. Cllr Nickie Aiken is the Leader of Westminster City Council.
This week in Westminster whilst MPs attention was on Brexit, a revolution began. It took place within the eight minute distance it takes to get to the division lobby in the Commons. But it was not about votes or Parliamentary plots – and certainly not about Brexit. It was the first National Family Hubs Fair and Conference. That does not sound too revolutionary, but these family hubs are transforming the lives of children and parents up and down the country, and are carrying the torch for the Government for when its attention returns to the domestic policy agenda.
The National Family Hubs Fair and Conference brought together around 50 organisations and family hub areas who are committed to supporting families. It was initiated by the Manifesto to Strengthen Families (led by Fiona Bruce and Lord Farmer in 2017 and signed by 60 MPs and several peers), which had a key recommendation: that the Government “encourage every Local Authority to work with voluntary and private sector partners to deliver Family Hubs, local ‘one stop shops’ offering families with children and young people, aged 0-19, early help to overcome difficulties and build stronger relationships…and put in place a transformation fund and national task force to encourage Local Authorities to move towards this model”.
Westminster Council did not need any encouragement, because it has been on the journey of service integration for many years. An integrated leadership team, consisting of statutory and voluntary organisations, oversees the development and work of the hub, and is committed to developing a shared approach through sharing of information, assessments, meeting processes and, importantly, their resources.
The significant funding challenges for children and family services mean that councils have to integrate, but in Westminster we have done it to improve and expand the reach of our services. We have shifted to a Family Hub model as a natural evolution from Sure Start Children’s Centres, realising that parents of older children (five plus) need and were asking for the same integrated support. We have launched the Bessborough Family hub as one of three hubs, supporting families with children across the age spectrum from under one to 19. As well as a physical building, the hubs will be a network of providers working across a given area.
All this sounds like management changes rather than a revolution but what we heard at our conference is that in Westminster and across the country in places like Chelmsford, the Isle of Wight and Rochdale, family hubs are tackling at source the biggest social problem which is relationship and family breakdown.
A lack of readily accessible early support for families with children aged from between under one to 19 who experience difficulties in their parenting and couple relationships and in their mental health threatens to undermine efforts to narrow the education attainment gap. It also fuels crises in social care services which are faced with unremittingly high numbers of children who are ‘in need’, on child protection plans, and coming into care.
Over half of referrals to children’s services come from the police, schools and health services, for whom the child or family’s presenting need was significant enough to require more help than they could offer. Yet without additional help many of these families will, sooner or later, require costly social services interventions.
The family hubs developing across the UK are key to tackling the “burning injustices” which the Prime Minister has identified as her mission – identifying families with complex needs as early as possible, no matter which service they come into contact with; preventing family breakdown; preventing children from going into care and from entering the criminal justice system; helping parents to gain employment; providing access to first-line mental health support to reduce referrals to higher level, more costly intervention.
Family Hubs are delivering significant outcomes: children and young people feeling safer; families being helped to improve parenting and children’s behaviour; better emotional wellbeing of mothers and children in the perinatal period and beyond; good lifestyle choices; more resilient families who can respond well to crises and cope with shocks; young people having strong attachment to at least one adult; and people being connected to and involved in their local community.
Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families, opened the Family Hubs Fair and expressed his support for family hubs and highlighted the £8.5 million LGA fund to support delivery of best practice. He then poignantly went off script to talk about the Valentine’s Day card he had received from his daughter Mia, and those strong relationships between family or friends which we all want in life.
Andrea Leadsom later took time out of a busy Brexit day to deliver a speech outlining her work as Chair of the Inter Ministerial Group for the Early Years. She emphasised the progress being made in supporting the crucial attachment between parent and child in the perinatal period and beyond and the implementation of her 20 years of experience encapsulated here at www.1001criticaldays.co.uk.
The call for early intervention is not new, but now there is a clarion call for leadership nationally and locally so children and family services can not only survive but thrive through partnership working of innovative Councils such as Westminster developing family hubs. So look out for a family hub coming to you soon and join the family hubs revolution!