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Digital Solutions for Family Hubs and Start for Life: Learnings from Coventry

As part of the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme, local authorities are shaping enhanced services delivered through transformed hubs to ensure all families can access the support they need and improve health and education outcomes.

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As part of the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme, local authorities are shaping enhanced services delivered through transformed hubs to ensure all families can access the support they need and improve health and education outcomes. At the Autumn 2021 Budget, the government committed to invest £301.75 million to transform services, achieve integration at a systems level, and improve the universal Start for Life offer in 75 local authorities across England. 

As one of only 14 trailblazers for the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme, Coventry City Council sought to enhance its offer for local families and embarked on a journey to integrate innovative digital solutions into the service delivery model. One intervention they commissioned as part of their Family Hubs programme was EasyPeasy, an integrated digital solution for the early years designed to enhance early years development from birth to age five, improve the home learning environment, and close the gap in school readiness. EasyPeasy is evidence-based and included in the Early Intervention Foundation Guidebook. 

Amanda King, Senior Advisor - Birth to five at Coventry City Council, shares how the council approached the design and delivery of their Family Hubs programme as a trailblazer local authority, the key challenges and opportunities faced, and the impact of the EasyPeasy offer in their local families and communities.

The challenges faced by Coventry City Council

Coventry City Council supports local families and children via eight Family Hub centres delivering joined-up early help services for children from pre-birth up to 19 years or 25 years if the young person has a disability.

The council identified challenges in supporting local families effectively post-COVID, before undertaking their Family Hubs transformation. One challenge was the impact of the pandemic on communities in Coventry and, in particular, on child development and speech, communication, and language delay. To tackle this challenge, the team wanted to drive parental understanding of the importance of engagement with children in the early years of their lives and increase the ability and motivation of families to take an active role in learning at home. The team also noted a challenge with the levels of transience within communities in the area, with many families arriving who were new to the city and the country and often escaping traumatic events. In this situation, families were not always able to join a group at a set location, so a more flexible range of support was needed. 

With a core commitment to delivering joined-up services for families, a strategic and political understanding and appreciation of the importance of the early years in driving long-term health and education outcomes, and a new funding stream as a Family Hubs and Start for Life trailblazer, Amanda and the wider Early Years Quality, Improvement and Standard Team set about to further improve the quality of provision in Coventry city. 

The solution implemented: EasyPeasy 

In response to these challenges, and seeking a partner to deliver a localised, integrated, digital service for parents and practitioners of babies and children from birth to 5, Coventry City Council turned to EasyPeasy and commissioned their digital solution in August 2022. 

EasyPeasy offered families and early years teams in Coventry a digital platform that provided accessible, engaging, and evidence-based support to inspire simple, positive interactions at home or in settings, improve family dynamics, and support child development. As part of this offer, premium access to the app was made free for their entire community and promoted via their Family Hubs centres and resources, and early years teams and settings. Practitioners in Coventry also received online training, providing teams with additional guidance, best practices, and advice to achieve home learning environment outcomes and drive impact for children and families. Their dedicated EasyPeasy data dashboard allowed them to easily track and monitor outreach and impact, with real-time data on take-up amongst children and families, engagement with content, geographic breakdown, and numbers of reach-to-families in low-income households. 

“We wanted an offer within and across Family Hubs for partners such as health visitors and therapists, paediatric physiotherapists and occupational therapists that could be used in both a universal and targeted way with those in need of more support, and also had the flexibility to be used in different ways by different services. Alongside the app, EasyPeasy provided an online training programme suitable for practitioners from all professional backgrounds. This was attractive because it offered our teams additional guidance, best practices, and advice to achieve home learning environment outcomes. We knew this would help to drive impact for children and families in their professional settings.” - Amanda King, Senior Advisor - Birth to 5 at Coventry City Council

Amanda notes that Coventry has a very diverse community and that it supports over 97 languages within schools and early years settings. It was therefore important for the team to put in place services and support that were accessible, localised, and adaptable for their specific local priorities around speech and language, and to be able to build awareness of their local community services and support amongst hard-to-reach families. With families who are new to the city, and quite often to the country, not immediately attending their Family Hubs in person, it was important for the team to develop new services where parents, carers, and practitioners could engage with each other through sharing ideas, resources, and information in a safe, monitored, and quality-assured environment. 

“When children can access high-quality services, and families and caregivers can be in the moment with their children, these two things make the biggest difference to a child’s learning and development and give that child a really, really good start in life. And that is the key principle that sits behind the work that we do in Coventry and how we approach the holistic design of our services.” - Amanda King, Senior Advisor - Birth to 5 at Coventry City Council

The impact of the programme amongst children and families in Coventry

Since implementing EasyPeasy, Coventry City Council has noted positive outcomes amongst local families, in particular the reach to disadvantaged families which was a key priority, and the instrumental insights from monitoring progress via real-time data to make informed decisions. Through training and access to the EasyPeasy app for a range of practitioners and early years teams across Coventry, Amanda also notes how EasyPeasy has provided nurseries, Family Hub staff, SEND teams, libraries, and health visitors with additional tools and guidance to promote awareness of the importance of the early years and increase participation of parents and carers in a child’s early development. 

Impact in numbers:

  • 11 percent of all children aged 0-5 living in Coventry reached within 18 months
  • 53 percent of children reached are from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • 81 percent of parents say they know more about what they can do to help their child develop their speech, language, and communication skills
  • 90 percent of parents say that since using the app, they feel they are making a difference in their child’s behaviour 
  • 98 percent  of parents say they will continue to use the app

"Good ideas to help with the children’s development which you may not always think of, away from the norm of activities you would usually do." - EasyPeasy Practitioner, Coventry

"Been fun trying out the app and it’s made our afternoons after reception more playful. Knowing that it helps with [my child’s] development means we have been trying out lots of activities!" - EasyPeasy Parent, Coventry

Lessons learned by Coventry City Council and recommendations to other local authorities

Through their experience with EasyPeasy, Coventry City Council emphasises the importance of thinking outside of the box when it comes to raising awareness of services amongst local families and communities. From handing out leaflets and fliers in high footfall areas and engaging a range of settings, early years teams, and practitioners in implementation to putting up stands and displays at community events, local music and culture festivals and engaging with local directories and services like Coventry Rocks to share news, events, and important information for parents, Amanda and the team have spread the word about EasyPeasy and their wider service provision in fun and engaging ways. 

When it comes to workforce skills and training and encouraging other early years teams to engage with training opportunities and resources as part of the provision of your services, Amanda recommends putting the training and development opportunity within the context of the specific role and objectives of the team member and being clear on how it will help them to achieve their goals and drive positive outcomes. 

“It's good to have a plan about what you want [the practitioner] to do with the training and what they have learnt once they have completed it. You need to be very clear about what your ask is of them and what's in it for them. Go away and find out what their key performance indicators are and what they're being held to account for before you talk to them to take part in a training opportunity. Because then you can be clear in your conversation on what their targets are and how this opportunity or service will help to meet their targets” - Amanda King, Senior Advisor - Birth to 5 at Coventry City Council 

Outlook for the future of the Coventry City Council Family Hubs programme

Looking ahead, Coventry City Council is committed to sustaining and further enhancing its Family Hubs programme and ensuring the continuity and scalability of its services for families, carers, and practitioners so that their universal online offer of support for families is embedded in what they do. Through establishing relationships with partners and engaging with a range of organisations at a national level to raise the profile of the impact their initiatives are having amongst babies and children, the team hope to raise the profile of the early years nationally and make a positive, long-term difference in the lives of families within Coventry.

Amanda King: Senior Advisor - Birth to five at Coventry City Council