Executive summary

This module is part of the Strategic “golden threads” section and is closely aligned with the governance module. We recommend reading these modules before embarking on your family hub development process.   

This module outlines the importance of a strong, shared, collaborative and outcomes-focused leadership, which is rooted in relational practice. This leadership style recognises the complex landscape that family hubs occupy and emphasises the importance of creating a shared vision and a trusting environment in collaboration with families and the wider workforce.  


Why is effective leadership key to family hub development?

Agreeing leadership arrangements, is a key part of Governance and an essential starting point to developing Family Hubs. There needs to be one leader, who can develop and drive forward a shared vision and facilitate the new integrated system.  This involves experience in strategic change management and the skills to combine a collaborative and relational approach within a complex transformational arena. The success of the leader will sustain the developments into the future, always having an eye on the next step. This leader will work collaboratively with other leaders, pulling together a consensus view, backed up by Governance arrangements where all these leaders are represented. 

Strong, shared, collaborative and outcomes-focused leadership is central to integrated service delivery models like family hubs as this builds commitment and a shared vision across the system. Creating a shared vision across organisations and services not only supports collaboration and integration but supports consistency of support for children and families and contributes to overall improved outcomes. 

Integration involves change across multiple organisations, professional disciplines and geographical boundaries, requiring leadership across the whole system as well as within each organisation. System leadership is particularly relevant to those developing and delivering an integrated family hubs approach because:  

  • no single individual or organisation can develop or deliver an effective family hubs model on their own 
  • responsibilities are often overlapping or unclear 
  • there are multiple uncertainties 
  • the integrated approach aims to address resource pressures  
  • a family hub model requires the energies, ideas, talents and expertise of as many people as possible. 

We know that the system of support around children and young people is not constant, it is changing and evolving, and an agile partnership leadership will be essential to support family hubs to succeed. 

Those developing family hubs need to consider both organisational and system leadership and how this can help make integration a reality. Leadership should enable staff to transcend traditional professional boundaries and individual organisational interests, working together systemically towards a shared ambition. Being able to navigate the whole system with a leadership approach that prioritises really listening to children and young people, local communities and the frontline statutory and voluntary workforces, will be essential.  

Investment in joining up services now will create cost-savings in the long run, as focus shifts to prevention and reduced need for intensive interventions later on. But these benefits are not immediate and those involved in prevention work can often become disheartened along the journey. The A Better Start programme highlights the critical role system leaders play in continually reinforcing the shared vision in terms of child and family outcomes to maintain impetus and motivation among staff.  

Establishing the integrated governance, leadership and management arrangements is one of the core implementation activities in establishing operational family hubs; these are all inter dependent and can’t exist without the others.  Joined-up working across services and professionals is central to the family hub model, underpinned by strong leadership at the systems level. The process of actively working together, coupled with strong leadership, aids better understanding of each other’s specialisms, breaks down barriers created by professional jargon and builds relationships. 

What leadership arrangements are needed?

The family hub model framework sets out the key elements of effective leadership arrangements for family hubs:

  • Strong local leadership and a commitment across partners to prioritise the early years, and support families with children of all ages

    Local leaders and delivery partners should have a shared commitment to this agenda and be actively engaged in the successful delivery of the programme. Clear and transparent leadership structures are important to ensure clarity of responsibility and accountability. You will be expected to identify a single accountable leader who will be responsible for driving and overseeing improvements in your Start for Life services. Local leadership should be assisted by a governance structure that is inclusive of delivery partners and key stakeholders, to ensure that priorities are shared and understood, and that organisations encourage and challenge each other to deliver positive outcomes. 

  • Senior leadership champion the vision for family hubs

    Senior leaders, including local politicians, should speak with ‘one voice’ on the importance of early help, whole-family working and whole-system working, including the development of joined-up family hub services. Senior leaders should be advocates and champions for the delivery of the local strategy and vision for the family hub network.

Who needs to be involved in family hub leadership?

You will need to engage a broad range of key stakeholders from across your local family services system. These stakeholders include practitioners, operational managers and strategic leads from the local authority, health, education and the voluntary, community and faith sectors, as well as families and young people.  

It’s important that local leaders ensure shared ownership of family hubs from the outset. Partners involved in the design and delivery of family hubs should include local community leaders and families in active co-production alongside children’s strategic partnership leaders (local authority-led) and the partnership leaders overseeing ICS-led local transformation planning. 

Learning from EIF’s work on leading and delivering early years services suggests that the following roles will likely be crucial to lead the development and transformation of family hubs:

  • a senior sponsor at director or assistant director level, who is an active champion for this work, helping to connect local transformation  
  • a transformation lead, who has specific responsibility for managing the change programme and bringing stakeholders together  
  • a data analyst or evaluation lead, with the ability to turn organisational and community data into local evidence, and to put in place robust methods for measuring and evaluating local delivery to better understand impact 

In addition, political support and executive-level leadership within the local authority are vital.

How can effective leadership arrangements support the development of successful family hubs?

  • Sustainability 

    Local areas with more established family hub models have found that keeping momentum beyond the initial development phase can be particularly challenging. Embedding family hub models has required a critical mass of awareness and engagement across partners and integration at all levels, from governance through to assessment and frontline delivery. But more than this, in working across 0–19 services, family hubs require dedicated leadership at a system level. ‘Hard’ accountability, beyond having a strategic plan and a commitment to multidisciplinary working and co-located posts, is needed. Who is already best placed to take ownership and drive family hub development on an ongoing basis to avoid drift?  

  • Leading change 

    Those leading the development of family hubs would benefit from having the skills to use tools that support strategic change management. These tools include workforce skills audits and population needs assessments to guide planning for a future workforce and to carefully navigate evidence and evaluation. They must also be able to understand change at a personal level and must be skilful in building relationships with stakeholders (particularly those who articulate the challenges) that are based on respect, compromise and shared ambitions.  

    The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) has developed some useful resources for leading change to deliver integrated care. According to SCIE, leaders of change display four key attributes – they are visible, resilient, inspire a sense of purpose and have grip on the key information and facts. 

  • Be visible 
    1. Ensure your role and responsibilities are clear and explicitly shared. 
    2. Communicate the vision for family hubs widely and regularly across partners and with local communities. 
    3. Show that by pursuing a family hubs approach, other objectives are achieved as a by-product. For example, how can pursuing a family hubs approach benefit the delivery of wider local system improvement priorities set out in the Supporting Families early help system guide? 
    4. Personalise the integration work so that it resonates with all audiences (including staff, families and young people who use services and the wider public). 
  • Show resilience 
    1. Be prepared to take and explain difficult decisions. Working in an integrated way requires decisions to be made that can have short-term impact on some organisations. Great leadership will be resilient and find a way through this conundrum to achieve the longer-term prize of integration. 
    2. Working in an integrated way across many organisations is challenging. Leaders need to work hard to build trust and a common purpose for a family hubs approach. This can be achieved by focusing on priority needs and outcomes that resonate across organisations. The key message from successful systems is that leaders need to be persistent to keep driving forward the vision for service transformation. Organisations where the leadership is seen to have lost interest and moved on to new priorities will quickly lose impetus. 
  • Inspire a shared purpose 
    1. Be seen to live the values that underpin the local vision for a family hubs approach; act as role models for people across your local system. 
    2. Maximise the contribution of teams to improve the family hubs work.  
    3. Demonstrate the importance of family hubs to the family hub workforce and staff from integrated partnerships within the family hub network, within their organisations and across the children and family services system. This should not be overlooked; the role of the leader is to constantly remind people of the family hub goal to improve outcomes for children and families. 

    It’s a bit hard to grasp what the family hub model is which is fine while it is in its development stage, but it needs to get beyond the hard to grasp if people are going be able to understand it and sign up to it and improve the way they work with families. 

    Service lead (Family Hubs Innovation Fund Evaluation interim research report, Ecorys)

  • Engage frontline staff 
    1. Create time and space. Frontline workers need time and opportunity to think about how their system is working and how it could be improved.  
    2. Disperse power. Give explicit permission to staff to question how your system is working; don’t assume that people will speak up if things aren’t functioning well. 
    3. Take down language and evidence barriers. Break down ‘official language’ and jargon and accept new forms of evidence. This will level the playing field for those wanting to create change. 
    4. Nurture community. It’s very hard to make change happen alone. Help staff form peer relationships to support each other. 
    5. Model system change behaviour. Wherever you sit in an organisation, take on some of the ways of being and doing what we’ve just described. 
  • Have a grip on the key information 

    The outcome measures for a local system need to align in a meaningful way with the vision and strategy for integrated care. The family hubs development process is a good place to start when confirming how a local system’s various partners and services are intended to work together, and in clarifying what the family hubs approach is expected to achieve.  

  • Consider system leadership 

    Good system leadership is key to implementing effective integration. Building on systems thinking theory, systems leadership aims to transcend individual organisational interests and work together on the basis of a shared ambition, with a view to making progress towards better outcomes for children and families. System leadership is a collective rather than individual endeavour. It is distributed across many levels and roles, organisational boundaries and cultures, beyond individual professional disciplines, often without direct managerial control of resources. 

    Those leading the development of family hubs would benefit from skills that enable effective system leadership such as: ‘systems mapping’ and stakeholder identification; identifying differences in stakeholder and organisational cultures; aspects of relationship building across systems; analysis, précis, and narrative construction; communications, negotiations and influence across boundaries; working with ambiguity and complexity; working without power; and harnessing conflict. 

    While these skills are helpful, system leadership is a mindset, a way of thinking about and approaching the leadership role more than a set of technical skills or competencies. The Virtual Staff College has developed a model based on a synthesis of research on system leadership, or leadership across multiple systems, for children’s services.  

    System leadership is achieved through influence and ‘nudge’, rather than formal power; alignment around a common vision or purpose; a focus on outcomes and results, not process; and strong but robust and honest relationships. Shared ownership is critical, therefore leadership for elements of the systems change should be distributed both within organisations (top down and bottom up) and across organisations. 

    System leadership flourishes when: 

    1. the authorising environment, whether organisational or systemic, tolerates risk and accepts multiple pathways to outcomes 
    2. there is willingness to cede organisational goals for collective ambition 
    3. positional authority is not the only source of legitimacy 
    4. it builds on local and place-based initiatives and networks  
    5. qualities, motivations and personal style are considered more important than specific competencies and skills 
    6. relationships are considered central to leading through influence and allowing challenge and difficult conversations  
    7. challenge, conflict and ‘disrupting the system’ are valued. 
  • Consider equity, diversity and inclusion 

    Successful implementation of a family hubs approach requires the behaviours and relationships that support collaboration to be developed, nurtured and modelled right across the family services system. A relational frame can support you to think about the people who make up a system and how those people relate to one another. 

    A focus on relationships through careful listening to, understanding, empathising with and supporting other people enables those we lead to feel valued, respected and cared for. This will help them to reach their potential and do their best work, resulting in more engaged and motivated staff with high levels of wellbeing, which in turn results in high-quality support for children and families. Research by the Kings Fund has shown a compelling link between compassion in leadership and staff wellbeing, team performance and better outcomes for patients and service users.  

    Developing compassionate leadership approaches helps leaders hold crucial conversations about inclusion, ensuring they hear and reflect deeply on what staff are telling them and then take necessary action to help address inequities and discrimination. High-quality, evidence-based, inclusive leadership development and support for leaders should also be provided, and initiatives to bring about change should be led by those who understand and have experienced exclusion.

Reflective questions

Reflective questions will be useful for those leading the development of family hubs to consider when engaging frontline staff in the change process (the questions included here are drawn from Lankelly Chase’s System Changers Programme: 

  • Do you offer those in frontline roles time or opportunity to contribute to thinking about how their system is working and how it could be improved? Do people have any space outside of their delivery role? Do you allow people flexibility in their roles to make decisions and changes, or do you lock things down in process? 
  • Are you aware of how power is distributed in your organisation? Do you give explicit permission to staff at all levels to question how your ‘system’ is working, with a view to improving it? Do you have genuine feedback loops in place that enable real dialogue rather than bottom-up feedback? 
  • Do you communicate in jargon and official language more than you need to? What space and encouragement do you give to voices that speak in non-official language? Do you give enough validity to different types of evidence? Are you aware of the labels you use and the impact they have? 
  • Do you enable staff to form peer relationships and communities to support each other? Do you encourage interaction beyond people’s official roles? 
  • Do staff at all levels demonstrate system change behaviours? Do they engage with a range of different perspectives? Do they show that it is okay to try and to fail when making change to improve things? Do they act outside of ‘hierarchies’, or do they seek to reinforce them? 

Tools and resources

SCIE has developed a checklist of factors that facilitate effective system leadership and a checklist for leading change. These have been adapted for those leading family hub development and transformation:

  • Leading change checklist
    1. A strong narrative led by the leadership team is in place. 
    2. There is an explicit approach to leadership development. 
    3. Leaders are visible and resilient. 
    4. Tough decisions are made and communicated in a timely way. 
    5. Leaders are able to contribute to system leadership as well as leadership of their own organisations, driven by a shared commitment to an integrated approach. 
    6. Commitment to deliver an integrated family hubs approach is sustained beyond the first flush of enthusiasm. 
    7. Key metrics are used to assess and drive local progress.
  • System leadership checklist
    1. Develop a shared purpose and vision of what future services should look like. 
    2. Have frequent personal contact – to establish the rapport and understanding on which collective leadership hinges. 
    3. Surface and resolve conflicts – difficult truths should be confronted not suppressed. 
    4. Behave altruistically towards each other – ask not “how can I win in this discussion?” but rather “how can we succeed together?” 
    5. Commit to working together for the longer term – because of the investment of time and energy needed to build effective relationships.
  • Resources