Absolutely. A family hub could well be placed in a church environment. Indeed, a wonderful church community in my constituency—New Life church—provides a host of services for all ages, including a very effective job club.
Family hubs are at the heart of the services in Essex. The majority of services are delivered and co-ordinated from hubs. There is one in each district and, like the one at Chelmsford library, they are open for 50 hours a week. The hubs’ approach to family care is to look at a family’s strengths and then to work with the family, across all its services, aligning resources and focusing on prevention, early intervention and evidence-based practice. Working with families is so important.
At Chelmsford library, library staff, health and family support workers, and volunteers from other support agencies have come together to create a one-stop shop for free family services, including antenatal contact, parenting support, school readiness, school nursing, family health, substance misuse support, contraception advice, nutrition support, mental health support, smoking cessation, dental care, and SEN and disability support for young people up to 25. They work with an array of family support services, such as Citizens Advice, safer spaces, adult community learning and home start. Volunteers are proactively encouraged to play a role through peer support and by developing grassroots community groups to help to strengthen and build resilience in local communities.
Key features of that successful approach include a true integration of joined-up services and community engagement, the whole-family approach I mentioned and a flexible service that meets individual needs—the right type of support by the right person at the right time. Myriad outcomes are aspired to, including 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.
So many families are increasingly without the support structures we took for granted only a generation ago, and often live far away from relatives. The impact of family hubs cannot be overestimated. As Javed Khan, chief executive officer of Barnardo’s, said at our No. 10 roundtable, they should be
“at the heart of the domestic policy agenda”.
Family hubs could play a crucial role in fighting the “burning injustices” highlighted by the Prime Minister. Mr Khan also said:
“Our frontline experience strongly supports the proposition that early help for families is absolutely essential to build resilience and prevent more serious problems occurring later on. That’s why, in our 10 year strategy, our first of three aims is to create Stronger Families, alongside Safer Childhoods and Positive Futures. Amongst our 1000+ services, we have some great examples of Family Hubs. We all know that rising demand on safeguarding services and the care system, combined with tightened budgets, leave many local authorities without the means to invest in early support. Yet help for families is vital if we are going to break the cycle and step in when children are at serious risk of harm.”
Other family hubs, such as Woodland Academy Trust’s, help with job and career opportunities. That hub has introduced a character toolkit for children and young people and has established a number of local projects in conjunction with local faith groups. As David Simpson mentioned, they can provide very strong community support. Westminster City Council plans to develop three hubs in collaboration with partner organisations, such as child and adolescent mental health services. I look forward to the launch of the family hub partnership in Westminster this November. We hope that there will be a ministerial presence there—ideally, the Secretary of State for Education.
The key aims of the Westminster hubs are just too many to mention, but they include 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 interventions; and improving outcomes for children and young people across a range of health and wellbeing indicators. I hope that those descriptions bring home the tremendous potential that family hubs could have if they were sited in local communities right across our country.
The aspiration to support the creation of family hubs nationwide is one of the policy asks in the Manifesto to Strengthen Families, launched last September, which has the support of some 60 Conservative Back-Bench MPs, many other MPs and a large number of peers. I pay tribute to Dr Samantha Callan, whom I mentioned earlier, who has done so much work on how practical policies could be developed by Government to help to strengthen families. She is part of the team that worked on this manifesto, together with Lord Farmer—our representative in the Lords—and our executive director, David Burrowes and myself.
Key policy 6 of the manifesto states that the Government should
“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…the Government should put in place a transformation fund and national task force to encourage Local Authorities to move towards this Family Hub model…that will particularly help children in need.”
The manifesto also states:
“Alongside physical Family Hubs, the Government should work with the Family Hub Movement to develop a virtual Family Hub offering online support and guidance that mirrors the depth and quality of NHS.gov and links families to local provision.”
I want to emphasise, however, that vocal and practical leadership is required from central Government significantly to accelerate the creation of family hubs and their roll-out across the country. We need Ministers and the Prime Minister to champion family hubs. We need this to be a key component of our domestic policy going forward. Backing that up with a transformation fund of £100 million over four years could provide a rocket boost by highlighting good practice and helping senior local authority staff across the country to reconfigure existing services to make them more holistic and co-ordinated. Focus should be on early intervention and prevention, as well as community self-help and developing missing services such as relationship support, which is too rarely available in the community.
Leadership from national Government to strengthen family life in our country is absolutely critical. The fiscal cost of addressing family breakdown, quite apart from the often lifelong pain and suffering of millions, has been estimated and oft-quoted in the House at around £50 billion, but that is a vast underestimate. The cost in terms of lost life potential and lost productivity is much more.
So much of that cost is borne, and so many of the related challenges are addressed, by a wide range of Departments: Education, Health, Justice, Work and Pensions, the Cabinet Office, Housing, Communities and Local Government, and even Defence. That is why our manifesto policy 1 asks for a Cabinet Minister to be appointed with responsibility for families. In the same way that one Cabinet Minister holds the equalities brief, another Secretary of State with a cross-Government brief, or one of the larger Departments such as DWP or Housing, Communities and Local Government, could bear named responsibility for families.
That Secretary of State would require an equivalent body to the Government Equalities Office—a dedicated budget and civil service team to prioritise and co-ordinate family policies across Government. That would also help to avoid the duplication of work that is becoming apparent across Departments and pots of money being allocated to address such challenges. There is serious risk that much good work across Government will not meet its objectives as effectively as it could because of the lack of integration and co-ordination across Departments, as well as the risk of duplication of manpower and money. That could be avoided if a Cabinet-level Minister responsible for families co-ordinated all that good work and more.
I mentioned that good work is being done across Government to strengthen families. Over the past year, our team that has worked on the Manifesto to Strengthen Families has been encouraged by the positive response to the manifesto not only from many Back-Bench colleagues, but from Ministers. We are delighted that the Ministry of Justice has fully adopted and is implementing Lord Farmer’s review on strengthening prisoners’ family ties, which reflects policy 18 of the manifesto.
We were also delighted by the announcement by Health Ministers of £6 million to help the children of alcoholics—a need referred to in policy 4 of the manifesto. Similarly, the budget of more than £90 million allocated to addressing the mental health crisis faced by young people was welcome, which we also referred to in our manifesto. However, our team has told the Schools Minister that if that funding is to be effectively used, it is critical that young people’s families are involved wherever possible to help to address their mental health needs. Engaging families and early intervention are absolutely essential to avoid the continued mental health challenges among young people in this and future generations.
Only last week, we welcomed the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education of greater emphasis on relationships education in the newly proposed relationships and sex education curriculum guidance. It includes that pupils learn about the characteristics of healthy relationships and the
“nature and importance of marriage for family life and bringing up children”— an emphasis reflected in policy 3 and elsewhere in our manifesto.
We also welcome the statements by Ministers in both Houses on the manifesto policy suggestions, including family hubs. My hon. Friend Mr Jones, when he was Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:
“I welcome the development of family hubs and we know that many areas are already moving towards this model of support for children and families.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 630, c. 564.]
Earlier this month, the Under-Secretary of State for the School System, Lord Agnew, affirmed family hubs, saying of them and other strategies that the Government want
“to ensure that these innovations are recognised and shared, and we want to spread these successful approaches.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 792, c. 959.]
Spreading the successful approach of the family hubs that are already up and running is important—indeed, it is urgent—hence the need for national Government support.
I have some short practical requests, which are examples of how the Government could support and help to promote family hubs. I understand capital clawback would need to be waived if the change of use of a former children’s centre were part of a local authority’s service redesign. Will the Government look at that? There should be a requirement for parents who are not in work but benefit from free childcare to spend at least one of those childcare sessions with their children in the hub to boost their own parenting confidence. Ofsted’s single inspection framework could specify that early help for families must show regard to the need for support for couples as well as parenting support, and DFE could signal its support for a major gear shift in the development of family hubs by adopting “hub language” and encouraging local authorities to redesign family support along the co-ordinated lines of family hubs.
The good news is that positive outcomes can be achieved quickly, as I outlined. The health and wellbeing work and engagement with families in Middlewich, where such outcomes are already being seen, has been led by an inspiring headteacher, Keith Simpson, who was appointed just six years ago. I read in this week’s edition of the local newspaper that he will be moving on. He has become deeply appreciated and respected in the Middlewich community, and has shown through his local leadership what a positive difference engaging with the whole family can make. I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole town when I say we wish him well with his move to Neston. Middlewich’s loss will be very much Neston’s gain, and he will leave a long-lasting legacy in many lives, particularly young ones.
Imagine the huge difference—the transformative impact —that could be made nationwide in just a few years by having a family hub in every community. Their positive, perhaps lifelong, impacts on individuals would ripple out into the community. Even the Chancellor has signalled his support for the concept, recognising the increased national productivity that may result.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education, who will respond to the debate, said recently that the Government have committed £8.5 million for councils to peer review one another to see what actually works in terms of outcomes for children. Will he confirm that that will include reviewing the effectiveness of family hubs? I know from a private meeting between him and our Manifesto for Strengthening Families team that he understands so much of what I have spoken about, so will he become a vocal champion for family hubs, press his Secretary of State to be so too, and in turn press the Prime Minister to take up the policy asks I outlined? It is not an exaggeration to say that this could be transformative for our nation.