Family hubs: holistic support in uncertain times
Andrea King is Director of Clinical Division at the Anna Freud Centre. She has worked as a senior leader in a local authority, for central government, for NHS England and NHS Improvement, specialising in mental health for vulnerable children and young people. In this blog, she explains the vital role of the National Centre for Family Hubs in shaping support services that can allow families to thrive in challenging economic times
Mental health does not exist in a social vacuum. Our environment, experiences and connections to people and spaces are fundamental components in our mental health.
The unprecedented events of the last two years have brought that into sharp focus. In the current cost of living crisis, families across the UK are facing extremely challenging times, with parents and carers struggling to meet basic needs of their children.
There are currently 3.9 million children in the UK living in poverty. The Trussell Trust have reported that between April 2021 and March 2022 they distributed 2.1 million food parcels, over 800,000 of which were to children. Research demonstrates that those growing up in poverty will go on to experience adversity later in life.
As well as poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic compounded other socio-economic issues that impact some groups in our population systematically. Children and families with minoritised characteristics and identities often describe the lack of understanding, comfort or exclusion, they experience when asking for help or support; and for some, the experience is one of exclusion and harm.
In recognition of the inequalities that affect the mental health of specific groups, the Anna Freud Centre is committed to being a genuinely welcoming, inclusive and an anti-racist organisation, learning from what we do well and humbly reflecting on where we’ve gone wrong. You can read about this in our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion page.
National Centre for Family Hubs
We are also proud to host the National Centre for Family Hubs, which is leading and developing a national platform of family hubs in local areas. We champion, develop and disseminate evidence and best practice across communities.
Family hubs provide support to families from conception until the age of 19 (or 25 for young people with special educational needs and disabilities) and offer a single access point to integrated family support services for early help with social, emotional, physical, and financial needs. This can help to provide a secure foundation for children to prosper later in life.
Trusting relationships are key to facilitate access to holistic support for families in family hub development. Through an integrated approach that prioritises prevention, family hubs can enable NHS services, schools, voluntary community, and faith sectors to deliver support.
We are already starting to see an impact, through partner collaboration, interdependence, and the sharing of resources that builds trust and confidence and allows families to thrive.
There are several key principles that underpin this approach. Promoting overall family wellbeing that encompasses the important role and values those who are significant to the child(ren), is most effective when help is received early.
Doing this starts with us listening to our community. It involves reaching out to those within a local context who have experienced marginalisation, harm or exclusion in their attempts to seek help and support in the past. Then, together we can co-design what safe and genuinely welcoming support could look and feel like for families in the future.
Family hubs can deliver support in a preventative way, either virtually or through pre-existing physical spaces. Whether a hub offers virtual or physical service delivery, it should be accessible and genuinely welcoming to the local community. There are many ways that a family hub can champion this:
- From design stage, invite child and family voices and experiences to co-produce and co-design service delivery
- Promote the genuine welcome and safety of all children and families
- Think intentionally about equity, diversity and experiences of the wider community
- Ensure that you are collecting accurate community data
- Train all staff in being trauma-informed, to ensure that from their first point of contact, families are welcomed in a warm and sensitive way
- Design resources and spaces accessible for family members with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
- Include staff who can communicate with families whose first language is not English
You can listen to the voices and experiences of community leaders representing marginalised, excluded and under-represented groups and communities through the National Centre for Family Hubs’ access and inclusion toolkit module.
You can also catch up on previous content we have created from our Co-producing inclusive and accessible family hubs conference, which includes a focus on the experience of fathers, minoritised ethnic families, diverse family forms, and families seeking sanctuary following conflict and displacement.
Looking forward to 2023, the National Centre for Family Hubs wants to partner with professionals, who are working in schools and in the voluntary, community and faith sectors who are interested in delivering support through family hubs. If you are interested, get in touch through our email address.
In February, the Anna Freud Centre will host an Early Years in Mind webinar, focusing on the cost-of-living crisis. We welcome attendance from anyone working in the early years sector as well as the health, voluntary and community sector.
This winter, we know that many families will be even more exposed to the cost-of-living, rising inflation and energy prices, alongside the challenges of the country’s recovery from COVID. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that family hubs are given the tools they need to succeed – now more than ever - and allow young people the best possible start in life.
Relevant resources of interest