Anne Longfield: Why the Government's commitment to Family Hubs is not enough

Families are one of society's greatest assets - a source of love, strength, protection, resilience, practical help, and advice. They have the greatest impact on children's values, on their learning, their safety, and their success in life.

So, I have always found it strange how little attention Westminster pays to supporting them.

From more help with childcare to providing somewhere to turn when things go wrong, the default should be to support families to become more resilient to crisis and to have more assets to draw on if things go wrong.

Frequently though, we leave many without the help they need. We're also spending billions on tackling family crises through the education, health, children's social care, police, and criminal justice systems, leaving ourselves with less money for early help and for improving our schools and NHS.

We should be investing much more on prevention. So, I welcome the funding that the Government has committed to Family Hubs.

But it's not enough. The ambition of what is promised is nowhere near the scale of what families need - nor what is needed to replace the hundreds of Sure Start centres that closed in the previous decade.

Sure Start was a new way of getting alongside struggling families to provide the guidance, support and advice many need as they bring up their families near where they live.  It remains a well-evidenced model of community support providing joined up support services from pregnancy to the early years and later childhood. It can bring huge improvements in parent and child relationships, preparedness for school, health, and reduce hospitalisation.

While many have closed or reduced services over the last decade after cuts to council budgets, the evidence shows what can be achieved, and the foundation for future growth in much needed support for families is there. Government just needs to be much more ambitious about the scale of its investment. A ten-fold increase will be required if Family Hubs are to reach the scale of support of Sure Start in 2010.

Government also needs to be much more ambitious about who the breadth of children and young people hubs should be supporting. As our Commission on Young Lives has set out - often in distressing detail - problems escalate and compound in the childhood and early teenage years of some of the most vulnerable children, putting them more at risk of serious violence, sexual and criminal exploitation, or being taken into care.

That is why our proposals for a Sure Start Plus are at the centre of our Commission's plan. I'd like to see Sure Start Plus hubs in and around 25 per cent of England's secondary schools by 2027. I think it's achievable and affordable with creative thinking and political will.

Sure Start Plus would draw on the experience of Sure Start, the model of community hubs already around some schools, and Family Hubs, bringing together statutory services for families alongside therapeutic and family support, intervention for families who are struggling, and specialist help for parents suffering from addiction, poor mental health and domestic violence.

Family workers would be on hand to help parents struggling with housing, debt, food, and the cost of living. It would work strategically and collaboratively with early years provision and with Family Hubs, and co-ordinate and deliver practical help and support from specialists, including education psychologists, mental health counsellors, and speech and language experts.

Families tell me how vital this kind of support can be. As we approach the next election, I'd urge politicians on all sides to go further and faster in providing it. Think what could be achieved for families and children if the programme was really expanded, so that every family could have help on hand, from birth to adulthood?

Helping to balance work and family, tackling problems as they emerge, and giving intensive help to those families who are struggling in areas, particularly the most disadvantaged, could really begin to turnaround children's life chances.

That really would be 'levelling-up'.


This article was published originally by Nursery World.

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