One of the ways—I shall elaborate on this—is to ensure that the centres are grassroots-built, that they engage with the local community and that they involve not just the statutory services but voluntary community groups. Each family hub will therefore be different and tailored to the needs of the local community, much more than Sure Start services were.
Anne Longfield says that
“in expanding the range of support we offer to vulnerable children and their families, we can support many more children in a more efficient and effective way. This is about an approach that works with children and their families, to develop resilience, confidence and independence”.
She says that it is imperative that Government initiatives
“focus on expanding the provision of lower-level services which support children and families, making them routine to access”.
She says that some may simply need a “helping hand” but that
“for others it will be specialist support for them and their families.”
Family hubs can offer that range.
The broader need that Anne Longfield highlights explains why exclusively focusing on the Sure Start children’s centre nought-to-five model is no longer tenable. It is vital, if we are to give children the best start in life, that services are broader. However, we also need to address the massive challenges our country faces due to family instability. That is why family hubs are needed. Such challenges include children’s mental health issues and educational and employment under-attainment, as well as a range of other challenges that can be lifelong, including addiction, housing pressures, pressure on GP surgeries, loneliness in old age and many others.
Although family hubs are as yet few in number, they are already beginning to have a real impact. I understand that the early intervention provision on the Isle of Wight means that fewer children are being put on child protection plans. At Middlewich High School in my constituency, when students have special educational needs or disability or mental health challenges, the whole family is supported. After just a few years, the evidence shows the positive impact of family hubs on the emotional health and wellbeing of students. There has even been an improvement in GCSE results.
I will describe one family hub in detail to evidence the range of support that hubs can provide, but before I do so, I will set out my key asks of the Government. National Government, from the Prime Minister down and across ministerial briefs, must really get behind this initiative. They must champion family hubs in policy, promote best practice and provide a transformation fund to help to accelerate the development of family hubs across the country.
I will describe just one example from a number of family hubs, represented at a recent roundtable to showcase good practice that was held at 10 Downing Street. Family hubs are all different because they are created by and tailored to the local communities in which they sit. Chelmsford family hub opened in March and is located in Chelmsford library. The refurbishment was paid for by a £145,000 grant from the Arts Council and £171,000 from Chelmsford’s infrastructure levy fund. In its first two days of opening, more than 80 families received support from the Essex Child and Adult Wellbeing Service and library staff.
The Essex Child and Adult Wellbeing Service focuses on ensuring every child has the best possible start in life and on providing community services that are accessible and high quality, and that meet the identified needs of children, young people and families.