Last reviewed 18 October 2016

Liz Hodgman, Strategic Hub Manager for a group of Children’s Centres looks at how provisions can use the “Healthy Start” scheme to support their work with families.

The Early Years Foundation Stage framework includes the responsibility of supporting children to be healthy and “Healthy Start” provides some excellent resources for provisions to do this.

Healthy Start is an NHS UK wide scheme designed to support our less affluent families to improve the quality of their children’s diet. It is a means-tested scheme which provides vouchers to pregnant women and families with children under four years of age.

These vouchers are to the value of £3.10 per week (two if the child is under one year) and are to be used to purchase cow’s milk, fresh or frozen fruit, vegetables and instant formula milk.

Along with the vouchers, women and children also get vitamin coupons that they can exchange for Healthy Start vitamins. Having a healthy balanced diet will provide lots of vitamins but sometimes a few more are needed by, for example, pregnant women, new mums or small children. Taking a supplement containing specific vitamins will ensure they get everything they need

Healthy Start vitamins are suitable for vegetarians and halal diets, and free from milk, egg, gluten, soya and peanut residues.

The Healthy Start Women’s vitamins contain Folic Acid (reduces risks of spina bifida in the baby), vitamin C for healthy tissue, and D for absorption of calcium and bone development.

The Healthy Start vitamin drops for the children contain vitamins A, C and D. They are for babies from six months old who are having less than 500ml of infant formula milk a day. Breastfed babies under six months might benefit earlier but the parent would need to discuss with his or her health visitor.

To be eligible to join the scheme, the woman needs to be at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years of age with her family receiving either Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance or an income related Employment and Support Allowance. She may also be eligible if she is claiming Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit unless her family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only) and has an annual family income of £16,190 or less (2014/15).

How can you support families to access the scheme?

Ensure that all staff within your provision are aware of the scheme, who is eligible and how they can access further information. This can be through staff meetings and providing leaflets and access to the online information. Allocate responsibility for the promotion of the scheme to one of the staff team and include in his or her performance management targets.

Provisions can ensure that families are aware of the scheme by having information readily available within their reception area. The Department of Health (DH) can provide (free of charge) posters, leaflets and application forms including some in different languages, (Urdu, Bengali and Somali). You can order these from the resources page of the Healthy Start website or direct from the Department of Health’s order line. You can also download some resources directly to your PC for immediate printing.

You could add a link to the Healthy Start website from your Provision’s website and include an article on the scheme in a newsletter.

Make a display in your reception area, this could focus on vitamin D in the winter and inform parents how they can prevent a deficiency. You could add in some children’s artwork with sun crafts, etc.

You will be able to identify families that may be eligible through the two-year-old funding programme. You could add a leaflet to their welcome pack and mention it when doing the induction or application process.

When parents inform you that they are pregnant this would also be a good time to mention the scheme and provide them with a leaflet.

If your provision is in an area of high levels of deprivation where more families are likely to be eligible, you could work with your local health clinic or Children’s Centre to visit and do a “road show” event when families are dropping or picking up their children. They may be able to provide a display and information, maybe even some free fruit to try.

Provide support to parents to check if they are eligible for the scheme. There is an online checker on the Healthy Start website that staff could support parents to access, especially if they have poor basic skills or English is not their first language. Support may also be required in completing the form and reminding them that it needs to be signed and stamped by a health professional before it can be submitted.

The vitamins are normally available for exchange of the voucher through a local health clinic, however some health authorities have established systems where they are available from other organisations. If you are a large provision with a high demand for the scheme then this might be worth looking into, although there would be some paperwork involved.

Healthy Start provides links to the Start4Life and Change4Life programmes and resources which are freely available both online to download and to order from the DH.

Further information on the scheme and resources available can be found on the following websites.

Healthy Start website

Department of Health Order Line