Why Family Hubs?

An overview

A Family Hub is a system-wide model of providing high-quality, joined-up, whole-family support services. Hubs deliver these services from conception, through a child’s early years until they reach the age of 19 (or 25 for young people with special educational needs and disabilities).

Family Hubs aim to make a positive difference to parents, carers and their children by providing a mix of physical and virtual spaces, as well as outreach, where families can easily access non-judgmental support for the challenges they may be facing. Family Hubs will provide a universal ‘front door’ to families, offering a ‘one-stop shop’ of family support services across their social care, education, mental health and physical health needs, with a comprehensive Start for Life offer for parents and babies at its core.

Each Family Hub is bespoke to the local community it serves but there are three key delivery principles that underlie all Family Hubs:

  1. Access: there is a clear and simple way for families with children of all ages to access help and support through a Family Hub building and a Family Hub approach.

 

  1. Connection
    • Services work together for families, with a universal ‘front door’, shared outcomes and effective governance.
    • Professionals work together through co-location, data-sharing and a common approach to their work. Families only have to tell their story once, the service is more efficient, and families receive more effective support.
    • Statutory services and voluntary and community sector (VCS) partners work together to get families the help they need.

 

  1. Relationships
    • The Family Hub prioritises strengthening relationships and builds on family strengths.
    • Relationships are at the heart of everything that is delivered in Family Hubs.

This module outlines some of the existing evidence for integrated ‘hub’ models and the impact they can have on families, as well as some of the known benefits for families from a system-wide, integrated, whole-family approach to family support provision.

As well as being founded on research evidence, it is crucial that the Family Hub model is rooted in family experience and local practice. The National Centre for Family Hubs (NCFH) has coproduction at its core and it is vital that families and frontline practitioners directly contribute to the cocreation of Family Hubs – from inception, to planning, to delivery, to evaluation and review.

What is a Family Hub?

Each Family Hub is bespoke to the local community it serves. Complementing the three key principles (access, connection and relationships) underlying the Family Hub model, other key factors include the who, where and what of service delivery.

  • Who should Family Hubs help?

    A Family Hub supports  families from conception, through the child’s early years, to later childhood, up to the age of 19 (or 25 for young people with special educational needs and disabilities).

    Family Hubs provide family support services early, when families need them. These include universal and targeted services, including access to the intensive support of a Supporting Families keyworker where appropriate.

    Family Hubs can support all families, particularly in the first 1,001 days, but they are designed to be particularly accessible to families from lower socio-economic groups, families who have special education needs or a disability, or those from minoritised groups who are experiencing exclusion.

  • Where should Family Hubs be delivered?

    Family Hubs deliver services in a variety of ways and at a range of locations; this reflects what the National Centre for Family Hubs has heard from families they want from Family Hubs. Hubs are not necessarily about creating new buildings but focus on bringing services together and changing the way family help and support is delivered locally. In practice, this will be a mix of using children’s centres and other local authority spaces, and repurposing other public buildings such as libraries, schools, even high street shops. A significant proportion of Family Hub services will be delivered virtually. Other services will be delivered in the homes of families themselves – outreach will form an integral part of Family Hubs, overcoming the access barriers many families experience in receiving the support they need.

  • What do Family Hubs provide?

    Family Hubs use a whole-family approach, providing a single access point to integrated family support services across health (physical and mental health) and social care, as well as VCS and education settings. A Family Hub makes these things come together. The integration of services into a Family Hub model may involve changes to the structure of local service provision, and may also involve a shift in how support is offered to families.

    As NCFH, we will be working with DHSC and DfE to encourage all Family Hubs to include a specific Start for Life offer, which could include midwifery, antenatal education, health visiting, breastfeeding support, and parental mental health support (see Best Start for Life module). Family Hubs are an important part of the Best Start for Life vision. Beyond that, Family Hub providers also have the autonomy to respond to specific needs in their areas based on local system assessments, population needs assessments and other local population data. This means that services included in a Family Hub will vary. For some, there may be a focus on homelessness, for others it might be youth mental health. It will be the seamless integration of universal services with targeted support that will be vital in determining positive outcomes.

     

  • Who needs to be involved in Family Hub delivery?

    The development of a Family Hub should involve key stakeholders from your local area across health, social care, education and VCS organisations, and it should be representative of the 0–19 age range. This will include commissioners, service providers, frontline practitioners, parents, carers and children and young people. Each Family Hub must meet the needs of the local community; a range of perspectives from the local area is therefore required to establish and deliver the best model of service provision for each Family Hub.

    Guidance on Family Hub development includes who should be part of the process to make it as effective as possible and to benefit families the most.

How the National Centre for Family Hubs can help

As well as local stakeholders, NCFH includes a regional structure, which exists to support local areas with Family Hub implementation. This comprises a team of regional coordinators who engage and consult locally. They will disseminate expertise and iterative learning from best practice on Family Hubs, host local events including regular action learning sets, and will be a key conduit for supporting local authorities and other stakeholders. Regional working complements national working, with regional coordinators responding in an agile way to regional context and need.

Find out who your regional coordinator is here.

Why do Family Hubs matter to families?

The key question underpinning the implementation and development of a Family Hub is: how does a Family Hub model benefit families? To answer this question, we can look at some of the evaluations of previous and existing integrated models of family support services and review the literature assessing outcomes for children and young people.

  • How does childhood adversity impact child outcomes?

    Evidence shows that children who grow up in families from lower socio-economic groups, or families who experience exclusion on the basis of being from a minoritised group, are more likely to have poorer outcomes across four key domains of child development from conception to 19 years, compared to their same-age peers. These four domains are:

    1. physical development
    2. behavioural development
    3. cognitive development
    4. social and emotional development

    The research finds that children who experience early-life adversity have measurable adverse outcomes across all these developmental domains as early as two years of age, and that these developmental delays or difficulties are sustained into their teenage years and beyond.

  • How does childhood adversity impact parental outcomes?

    Research by the UCL Institute of Health Equity suggests that there are intergenerational links in exposure to childhood adversity, which means that children who experience Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), are more likely to have a parent who also experienced ACEs. Although there are some studies which suggest links between ACEs and parental stress and the impact on parenting, there are also many psychosocial and policy approaches which can mitigate this risk.

  • How does childhood adversity impact societal outcomes?

    The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) has estimated that the cost of late intervention is almost £17 billion a year, suggesting that providing family support early can lessen the demand for statutory intervention or acute services later on.

What does the evidence tell us works to help families facing adversity?

The principles of the Family Hub model have been developed based on existing evidence for various aspects of integrated ‘hub’ models. These are summarised below and more information on the relevant evidence can be found in the NCFH resource library.

  • Providing support early in life

    The increasing evidence base, presented in The Best Start for Life, linking the adverse impact of early stress, trauma and adversity on child outcomes from conception, during pregnancy and the early years, is now overwhelming. The review points strongly to the need to ensure that children have the best start in life and live in environments that nurture and protect them from risks from their very earliest moments. It also acknowledges that, in order to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic, the youngest members of society – and those who nurture and care for them – must be given the help and support they need.

  • Providing integrated family support across health, social care, VCS services and education

    There is a strong consensus in evidence and practice, highlighted by the Early Intervention Foundation, that greater integration can benefit families. High-quality integration is supported by a single point of access that families can use to engage with services that meet the myriad of needs they may have.

    One of the key principles of successful family support services is multi-agency working. Different service providers connect and coordinate, so that families get the support they need. This way of working is not just about making a series of referrals or interventions; rather, it is about professionals working together to make the differences that are needed for each family in a holistic way.

    Qualitative research tells us that integrated family support services improve the experience of families when they only need to tell their story once because services and professionals are appropriately working together to give them the right help. Better connected professionals reduce the burden on families of managing multiple relationships and appointments, and means they should not have to continually retell their story.

    This kind of integration would address barriers to access that parents and carers say they face, as reported by Action for Children in Beyond reach: barriers to accessing early years services for children. Integration is significantly supported through digital data-sharing to give professionals the tools they need to collaborate more easily as a ‘team around the family’. It also promotes a way of working that allows professionals to spend more high-quality time with families and less time on administration and lower-impact work, ultimately yielding better value for money and better outcomes.

    Another example of a well-evidenced integrated model of family support (specific to the 0–5 age range only) is the Sure Start initiative. An evaluation of Sure Start highlights the positive impact of integrated services on improving outcomes for children, in particular children and young people’s social development and an improved learning environment at home. One analysis explores links between Sure Start implementation and effectiveness for child and parenting outcomes. Its findings provide useful guidance on the design of child, family and community services.

     

  • Providing a service that is accessible to all families

    Current provision can present a complex service landscape that can be difficult for families to navigate in order to receive the often multilayered help they require. This fragmented nature of support provision leaves families vulnerable to ‘falling through the gaps’, particularly when accessing support during transitional periods (e.g., moving from perinatal support services to early years support).

    An integrated model of family support that improves join-up between organisations can provide a consistent, public-facing point for access, assessment and navigation of family support services. Improved relationships with VCS and grassroots institutions will enable a much wider range of initial contact points, improving the ability of all families to access services.

    Research indicates that families (particularly new parents and young people) appreciate being able to access family support services flexibly, using both physical and virtual spaces to improve access and experience.

     

  • Taking a whole-family approach

    The Family Hub model extends support to families with children and young people from conception to 19 years of age (or up to 25 for young people with special educational needs and disabilities). This means that families can access a range of support services appropriate to all stages of family life from within the same hub network, which reflects what families tell local authorities they want. Ensuring consistent support to families of all make-ups, with children of all ages, promotes the development of trusted relationships between families and professionals within Family Hub services. This extended and universal support, which will be complemented by the incoming NHS 0–25 children and young people mental health delivery system, will be crucial for meeting the needs of groups that have been excluded or discriminated against and will offer specific support for children in care, young carers and parents.

     

  • Taking a relational approach

    Relational practice has consistently been found to improve both the experience and outcomes of families engaging in family support services. This is highlighted in the independent review of children’s social care, A case for change. Relational practice means taking a family focus, where strengthening relationships within families is prioritised across a variety of situations (e.g., a breakdown in couple relationships) and may range from conception to teenage years. An EIF review of early childhood services delivered through local hubs found that trusted relationships were crucial in enabling parents to feel confident in attending children’s centres, and in sustaining attendance in more targeted support programmes. The delivery of universal services within children’s centres was seen as a way of removing barriers by avoiding a reliance on other services to build relationships with families, which would then connect them to children’s centre support. This integration reduced the likelihood of families falling between services due to ineffective referral pathways.

    A relational approach also means taking account of specific family dynamics, the local situation and the wider sociocultural context to build on family strengths and support the different layers of a family’s needs in a holistic manner. Ultimately, the aim of a Family Hub is to strengthen families by providing help with the myriad of challenges they face. This is key to a preventative and early intervention approach that improves outcomes for families, children and young people.

Using the evidence to develop a Family Hub model

Bringing together the available research on family support services has provided a foundation for the development of the Family Hub model and its three key delivery principles, which are summarised below:

  1. Access
    • There is a clear, simple way for families with children of all ages to access help and support through a Family Hub building and a Family Hub approach.

 

  1. Connection
    • Services work together for families, with a universal ‘front door’, shared outcomes and effective governance.
    • Professionals work together through co-location, data-sharing and a common approach to their work. Families only have to tell their story once, the service is more efficient, and families get more effective support.
    • Statutory services and VCS partners work together to get families the help they need.

 

  1. Relationships
    • The Family Hub prioritises strengthening relationships and builds on family strengths.
    • Relationships are at the heart of everything that is delivered in Family Hubs.

As part of NCFH’s Implementation toolkit, we have coproduced a suite of tools and resources to help you in the development of your Family Hub. We recommend using the Family Hub development process, a systematic approach to assessing local needs and delivery, which builds a strategic case for Family Hubs locally, secures partner commitment to that change and develops a robust implementation process.

Questions for reflection

– How might a Family Hub model benefit families in your local area?

– What are the challenges for the implementation and development of integrated service provision in your local area?

Other modules in the toolkit

Subscribe to our newsletter 

Family Hubs in Mind is our free newsletter, circulated monthly, and will share news from our members, latest events and resources.

The National Centre for Family Hubs is hosted by the Anna Freud Centre. This data is managed by the Anna Freud Centre through Mailchimp. Click to read the National Centre for Family Hub’s Privacy policy

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.