Family Hubs and Best Start in Life Programme:

An opportunity to embed an early intervention and prevention approach?

We know that ensuring that every child has the best start in life is critical for the prevention of public health issues and inequalities both during childhood and throughout later life.  Ensuring a best startis a key focus of the government’s new Family Hubs and Best Start for Life programme

While evidence is emerging about specific early years interventions (e.g. particular parenting interventions and aspects of maternity services), which can inform the development of this programme, there are knowledge gaps about how these could ‘fit together’ and best be managed in different local contexts; and therefore what an effective preventative approach to the early years actually involves in practice.

Our Yorkshire and Humber ARC Early Life and Prevention theme has been reflecting on what our research tells us that might help areas which are establishing Family Hubs and Best Start for Life programmes.   

There is an opportunity to learn from A Better Start: a National Lottery Community Fund that was funded in 5 areas of England to ‘test and learn’ how to support families, improve children’s health and development, and enable systems change in the way early services are commissioned and delivered.

This blog was written by the Born in Bradford Innovation Hub (supported by the NIHR ARC Yorkshire and Humber) and Better Start Bradford team.

Our new briefing note for Family Hubs and Best Start in Life  programmes “An opportunity to embed an early intervention and prevention approach?” captures our four key lessons:

1. Build a cross-sectoral partnership of senior leaders who can drive change

Our work has been led by a cross-sectoral group of senior leaders from across the early years system who are well positioned to break down organisational barriers to partnership working. This group have a shared objective of using evidence to drive change to ensure all children get the best possible start in life.

2. Develop a shared understanding of what prevention means

Early intervention and prevention often mean different things to different people working in early years, children’s services and public health. Building a strong multi-sectoral partnership has been really important in helping us develop a shared understanding of what prevention means. 

The idea of proportionate universalism is central: resourcing and delivering universal services – e.g. health visiting, midwifery, family hubs, childcare and Better Start projects – to give a continuum of support and at a scale and intensity proportionate to need; with targeted services for children and families that need more support. 

3. Focus on evidence and learning

The Born in Bradford Innovation Hub have worked with Better Start Bradford and partners to develop a learning partnership; with structures and ways of working oriented towards evidence and evaluating what services can be delivered locally and are acceptable to families. We have developed theory of change toolkits  and a pragmatic evaluation framework which monitors performance (test and learn), assesses implementation of services, and can demonstrate impacts in seldom heard communities. 

All the Hub’s work is co-produced with the community, partners and Better Start Bradford to ensure it is impactful locally. The Hub's work strengthens our partnership, integrating evaluation into practice and improve decision-making: helping us think about local need together, monitor reach, identify strengths or issues, and inform us when adaptations, new initiatives, or decommissioning are needed – making good use of limited resources.

4. Coproduce everything

Coproduction is a 'golden thread’ through all our early years work including research and evaluation. We have involved parents as partners as much as possible: creating structures to formalise their voice and influence, challenge us, and learn together.  We have invested in community engagement workers who have the expertise to reach out, listen, celebrate parents’ strengths, and mobilise opportunities for parent influence and action. 

We may not have always got coproduction right, but we have always listened and worked hard to address issues and move closer towards our joint aim of ensuring children in the Better Start areas of Bradford have the best start in life.

For more information

Read our Family Hubs and Best Start in life briefing note by clicking the button to download below. 

Front page of briefing note

This blog was written by Amy Barnes, Senior Research Fellow in the Healthy Childhood theme at Yorkshire & Humber ARC.

7 June 2023