Last reviewed 10 January 2022
Family hubs will be central to the way services are delivered for children and families. Rebecca Fisk outlines the Government’s championing and commitment of a different way to deliver services at the universal, targeted and enhanced support levels.
Early years practitioners in the private, voluntary and independent sectors and those in schools may find that they are asked to get involved in local authority scoping and planning around the family hub model. Some early years provision might be collocated within a family hub too.
What is a family hub?
A family hub is a centre which offers integrated family services to support families with children and young people aged 0 to 19 to visit to receive early help when they need it. Family hubs provide early intervention to help families through a range of difficulties and to build stronger relationships. This may include improving children’s well-being, their educational attainment, and mental health. The idea of a family hub is that it is a centre which supports and enhances integrated working to support families to have better outcomes and ensure more effective delivery of services.
What do family hubs provide?
Family hubs provide a central access point for integrated services. This could be in a purpose-built building. It could also be in another sort of building such as a children centre or a school or doctor surgery. A family hub could even have a virtual access point. The key is that families know where to go and get help. This is where early years practitioners can make a significant difference by keeping abreast of service delivery in your local area and signposting parents to support.
It is seen as desirable for some services to collocated and one measure of how well this is working is when families need to “only tell their story once”. Services and people then work together to give families the support they need, rather than families having to register with each new service and go through their experiences all over again.
Not only do family hubs provide a central access point for services and support which are connected to other sites that deliver services, but they provide a whole family approach. This means there is a focus on the needs of the children and young people which may also include the support for parents with their relationships. Easing parental conflict is a key agenda within family hubs and supporting parents with the issues that underpin this conflict. Parental conflict has significant impact on children and young people.
Family hubs will provide for children from pre-birth to 19 (and to 25 if the person has special educational needs or disabilities). Family hubs should be a centre of information, advice and guidance for these families. Central to a family hub model is the idea of early help and prevention for families including giving children the “best start in life” from pre-birth to age 5. This is the time when children’s brains are developing at a rapid pace and their experience of the love and nurturing they receive is crucial for later life outcomes. Family hubs aim to help support parents to parent well and understand the impact this can have on their child’s brain development.
What are the central principles of family hubs?
The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families is overseeing the transformation programme. It has outlined that there is a commitment from the Government to championing family hubs. Family hubs are a “way of joining up locally to improve access to services, the connections between families, professionals, services, and providers, and putting relationships at the heart of family help” (Jessop, 2021 ). The Start for Life offer is at the core of family hubs where services for children of all ages are brought together.
How services are delivered in different places varies but the principles of the family hub model include:
more accessible services
better connected services
The Family Hubs Network outlines the aims of family hubs as follows:
to strengthen families by providing help with a myriad of challenges parents face, especially those which hamper children’s social, emotional and physical development and their educational progress
to help prevent family breakdown by supporting families where parenting is particularly difficult and ensuring access to early help to address problems which might otherwise escalate
to help prevent family breakdown by providing relationship support for couples at life’s key pressure points and when parents find it hard to resolve conflict
to support separating families to reduce parental conflict and achieve workable parenting arrangements in the best interests of the children thereby preventing where possible the need to access the family courts (Family Hubs Network, 2021).
The new national initiative of developing a national centre for family hubs is led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and funded by the Department for Education. Its aim is to help ensure that all babies, children and families have the support they need through a network of family hubs across England. The development of family hubs and support for this process is being informed by families’ own lived experiences. It is practise-led and evidence-based around what is known about what works well for families. The national centre for family hubs is a new learning network that has been established to champion family hubs by sharing their best practice on the evidence-based models across England. The way it will help and support will be to develop a family hub implementation toolkit, a resource library, training, and provide expert consultation (Families, 2021).
Why should family hubs be important to early years practitioners?
A family hub is a system-wide model of providing high quality, whole family, joined up family support services. Family hubs deliver these family support services from pregnancy through the child's early years and later childhood and into early adulthood when they reach the age of 19, or up to 25 for young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
Early years providers are in the privileged position of seeing families and children every day. They have a unique relationship with children and their families. They are at the frontline when recognising that families may be in need of support. This support could be just knowing about the universally available services in the local area, such as “stay and play” sessions at a children’s centre, or a baby massage group in a community room. Early years practitioners are able to support families to recognise need and access services. On many occasions the early years practitioners might be the only adults that see the child or parents outside of the home for any length of time.
Safeguarding is fundamental to the early years foundation stage and part of that is prevention. It has often been highlighted in serious case reviews, where a child has died, that services have not been joined up enough and that there have been missed opportunities to share information and concerns. It will be essential that early years providers keep themselves informed of services available for families. Each local authority has a Family Information Service webpage which is a good place to start. Knowing where the family hubs are, and how to access the services they offer, will really support conversations with families, especially if they are struggling. Family hubs will be able to offer services that are both preventative and deliver intervention for targeted groups of parents and children at the time that they needed.
The “best start for life” vision and the critical first 1001 days in a child’s life
Family hubs are at the heart of the Government’s vision to give all children the best start for life. The best start for life is a Government vision for the “first 1001 critical days” of a child’s life. Andrea Leadsom MP carried out an early years health review and found that the country was spending billions of pounds on societal issues that could be prevented before the age of two. This includes, for example, a lack of school readiness, poor mental health, increased addiction, criminality, obesity, diabetes and congenital heart disease. It is now being raised nationally to policy makers that the building blocks for lifelong emotional and physical health are laid down in the period from conception to the age of two. It is pertinent that the Government’s own report suggests that “currently this critical period does not get the focus it deserves in the national arena”. Andrea Leadsom’s review states that “prevention is not only kinder but is also cheaper than a cure” and that “the government must move towards a stronger supportive policy framework to save billions of pounds for taxpayers and change society for the better”. (Government, 2021)
The review suggests that the first 1001 critical days in a child’s life is where every family deserves support to help make sure that their baby grows up to be physically healthy and emotionally capable. Having secure attachments in their infancy to their key carers, who are able to cope with caring and parenting, will build a child’s resilience. Parents and carers, too, need to be resilient and able to cope with the ups and downs of life through building strong relationships at home and at work, and seeking help when they need it. This vision has far-reaching consequences but there is an increasing awareness of the essential need for parents to be in a position to give love and nurture to their developing newborn infants and developing child. This is central to the family hub agenda.
There is increasing policy commitment to developing services to support parents, children and young people in the diverse range of families we see in society today.
Family hubs are one manifestation of this changing recognition of the importance of relationships within the family and how that can impact on parenting and the child.
Research shows that the lived experiences of infants and children at the start of life will have consequences on many aspects of life in later years.
The development of family hubs and the expansion of this to new areas is hoped to be transformative to the lives of many.
Early years providers are central to understanding how they can work with the services in their area to deliver the best start in life for children.
Jessop, L. (2021). Family Hubs Transformation Fund. Family Hubs Transormation Fund Department for Education. Anna Freud National Centre for Childen and Families.