What is the Supporting Families programme?
In May 2020, the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities [DLUHC]) published the Early help system guide , a toolkit to support local strategic partnerships responsible for their early help systems. This practical tool helps local authorities and their partners direct their focus and activity towards whole-family working, strong governance and a mature data infrastructure that supports early help. The guidance is based on national learning from local areas about activities that make them more communicative, collaborative, whole-family centred and data driven.
In March 2021, the next phase of the programme was launched under the new name ‘Supporting Families’. The refreshed vision, set out in Supporting families 2021–22 and beyond, continues the focus on intensive whole-family support from a lead professional where families are experiencing multiple complex problems, but also the ambition to fully embed earlier support from the appropriate local service when problems first emerge.
The vision is that the practice of whole-family keyworking is spread across agencies, including the forming of strong partnerships with specialist services, more involvement from voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations, and from communities themselves. The aim is for strong multiagency local partnerships in every area and mature local and national data systems, which enable partners to identify families in need of extra help, target services more effectively and track family-level outcomes over the long term. This will support all local areas to fully embed preventative approaches into their support systems for families, creating more resilient communities for the long term.
Why are joined-up services for families with multiple and complex needs so important?
Parenting is not easy under the best of circumstances. It is particularly challenging, however, when parents and carers must also cope with serious and persistent issues such as joblessness, mental health problems and family breakdown. Social exclusion and discrimination have been experienced during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly by individuals from lower socio-economic groups, minoritised ethnic groups and those with disabilities.
Vulnerable parents and carers often require access to a range of interventions, including intensive relational support able to address multiple issues. Effective support for vulnerable families cannot be provided in an uncoordinated, transactional way, which sees only problems rather than people and fails to comprehend the entirety of a family’s life. The result is escalating problems, poor outcomes often perpetuated across generations, and unmanageable flows into reactive, statutory systems, which is overwhelming for public services and costly for society as a whole.
How do Supporting Families and Family Hubs relate?
Family Hubs are one way of delivering the Supporting Families vision of an effective early help system, as set out in the Early help system guide. The guide encourages local areas to adopt a ‘hub’ model, although not every area has a Family Hub. However, where Family Hubs exist, they provide a single access point – a universal ‘front door’ – to services for families with children of all ages. Family Hubs involve co–location of services and professionals to make it easier for families to access the services they need, and this can include both physical locations and virtual offers. Many services offered in a Family Hub network will be for families who do not need intensive, whole–family keyworker support; however, hubs will ensure seamless access to a whole–family keyworker where needed.
How will the National Centre for Family Hubs work with the Supporting Families programme?
The National Centre for Family Hubs (NCFH) will support local areas with the development of Family Hubs through sharing good practice online and through a regional structure. This will include guidance on using local data to understand the current local delivery of support for infants, children, young people and families, such as that gathered through the Early help system guide system assessment, to inform Family Hub development.
Seeing more services working in a coordinated and whole-family way has always been an aim of Supporting Families. During 2021–22 DLUHC will test new and different ways to encourage local transformation. This will include working with a focus group of areas to consider how the Early help system guide could be strengthened to better incentivise change at the local level, including supporting local areas to move to a Family Hub model.
Family wellbeing centres (FWCs) are the main delivery vehicle for early help in Brent and integrate the funding and requirements of the Supporting Families programme. They provide an integrated service offer for families.
FWCs and the Supporting Families programme are interrelated on many levels. Many of Brent’s local services and early help staff resources are funded by the Supporting Families programme and delivered within FWCs.
Specialist services targeted at families with complex and interrelated problems, such as Supporting Families employment advisors, are linked to FWCs. These advisors carry out face-to-face work from centres in accessible locations embedded across Brent’s communities.
The core services offered in the FWCs correlate to the Supporting Families Outcomes Framework and form a ‘one stop shop’ access point for families. Services include:
- employment, education and training providers supporting young people who are or at risk of becoming
- NEET citizens advice services supporting families with benefit, debt, housing or employment issues
- housing management services providing targeted tenancy support
- community safety services supporting young people at risk of crime and/or exploitation
- early help key workers assessing and supporting whole families meeting Supporting Families criteria
- domestic abuse services, with women’s groups and male perpetrator groups running in safe and separate operation
- Reducing Parental Conflict programmes on offer for specific early interventions for families experiencing harmful conflict in their relationships.
Families see a straightforward offer, with information about their available local services and activities communicated immediately as they access the centre. Families experience their needs being supported directly or find themselves linked quickly to help that their whole family will benefit from.
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