Developing Hackney Children and Family Hubs: what we learned from our communities
Hackney Council spoke with almost 300 parents, carers and families, to help develop new ways of working for families and their children until they reach the age of 19, or 25 in the case of young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
This engagement follows the announcement that Hackney would be one of 75 local authorities allocated funding to develop Family Hubs.
The hubs will include a Start for Life programme, funded by the Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care, focused on providing support for the critical 1001 days from conception to age two. This programme will offer a wide range of services for new parents and their babies and young children, including perinatal mental health and parent infant relationships, infant feeding, parenting support, early language and home learning advice.
In Hackney, these new ‘Children and Family Hubs’ will offer integrated family support services to meet families’ social care, education, mental and physical health needs. Specialists will be able to better help families by working together in a coordinated way, sharing information and providing tailored support.
What were the findings?
Between October 2022 and January 2023, families, children and young people were invited to participate in workshops and interviews at stay and play sessions and events. At the same time, a wider engagement survey captured the views of parents, carers and professionals who may not have taken part in workshops. The Council also held engagement events with staff and with Voluntary and Community Sector organisations. More than 70 parents participated in preparing the guidance for new parent carer panels to be set up later this year.
Some of the priorities mentioned by the majority of families centred around:
- Access to information about family and children's services via a wider range of channels: digital, emails, text messaging, printed materials, face-to-face meetings with community leaders and other organisations (such as children’s centres, schools, libraries, GPs), word-of-mouth
- Wider range of support for parents and carers, including professional advice on children’s development, managing challenging behaviour, health, finance, housing and employment advice, access to creches and affordable childcare, peer support, skills training
- Support for families and children with SEND: behavioural support, peer support for parents, additional support for children as they transition to school and in preparation for adulthood, and for families who speak English as a second language
- Additional support for older children and for young people, including practical and physical activities, life skills, counselling and mental health support, parenting guidance, homework clubs, arts
Participants also mentioned some of the challenges families may face in accessing support services, which include:
- Language barriers for non-English speakers and for families who speak English as a second language, and in particular for asylum seekers living in temporary accommodation
- Accessibility challenges for parents with mobility issues
- Financial challenges, such as the impact of the increase in the cost of living, difficulty accessing affordable childcare, and barriers for families with no recourse to public funds
- The need for a balance between online and offline services
- Mixed experiences and sometimes difficulties in building long term relationships with support workers, mental and physical health practitioners
- Balancing the wider range of services offered as part of Children and Family Hubs with the particular focus on early childhood, early intervention and prevention, and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children of mixed age groups
- Using hubs as tools for community building, strengthening communication between partners and providers, and not as a replacement for other community services and resources
How will Hackney’s Children and Family Hubs work?
Strengthening relationships and helping families build on their strengths are at the heart of the services that will be delivered in Hackney’s Children and Family Hubs. Families will receive more efficient, tailored and coordinated help from a network of professionals, service providers, health, community and voluntary sector partners. On top of the Start for Life programme, the hubs will also support families with older children.
In Hackney we already benefit from a wide network of children’s centres that operate on a hub and spoke model. The plans will see the broadening of 4 of our ‘strategic’ children’s centres into 4 new Children and Family hubs, to develop 4 networks of professionals aligned to the primary care neighbourhood networks of Hackney. These hubs will act as a central point for families looking for support from a wide range of specialists, where and when they need it.
We see parents, carers, children and families right across Hackney's diverse communities faced with many challenges, and it is our responsibility to offer effective support and opportunities.
We are fortunate to have retained in our borough a wide network of maintained, school managed and community-run children’s centres, and while these operate under increasing pressure, it does mean we are well-placed to develop Hackney Children and Family Hubs and deliver the Start for Life programme.
We know that only by working together with parents, carers, guardians and the wider community can we fulfil our ambition of providing better chances to every child in Hackney, from the very first days of their lives.
This engagement with children, families, staff, and voluntary and community organisations is one of the essential steps in developing our shared long term vision for Hackney Children and Family Hubs, and shaping how the services offered as part of the programme will work.