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Gloucestershire: Providing extra support to young families

Gloucestershire County Council is launching two new projects to target families with children under the age of five in the county’s most disadvantaged areas. 

Gloucestershire County Council is launching two new projects to target families with children under the age of five in the county’s most disadvantaged areas. 

It is in recognition that families with babies and toddlers born during the pandemic will need extra support given the disruption to services over the past two years. 

Families ‘could fall through the gaps’

Research by national organisations has found the development of young children has been hampered by the pandemic. For example, Ofsted has warned that some young children have regressed in basic learning and potty training.

Meanwhile, the Parent Infant Foundation has raised concerns about the social and emotional development of toddlers.  There are fears that cases of neglect and abuse will have been missed too.

Like all councils Gloucestershire has services in place to support young families. There is a network of children and families centres with a total of 16 across the county providing access to a range of support from health visitors to parenting programmes. 

To support families with additional needs there is a Families First programme to provide intense tailored one-to-one work with a small number of households. 

But the public health and children’s services directorate has recognised extra support will be needed with many parents with babies born over the past two years at risk of falling between the gaps between the services. 

Maternity, Children and Young People Public Health Consultant Beth Bennett-Britton said: “That normal support and networks that families rely on has, despite all the efforts made, been disrupted, particularly during the lockdowns. It has been such a difficult time for families with young children. The needs will have grown and we may have additional safeguarding needs or more children who are behind in their development.

“The concern is that a lot of this will be hidden, especially in our most disadvantaged communities as families already at risk of poorer outcomes will have suffered the most, including those with lower incomes and from ethnic minority communities.

“This is likely to have widened the already deep inequalities in the early experience and life chances of children. So we are investing in two projects to put additional support into areas where there is the most significant disadvantages and the needs are likely to be the greatest.” 

Outreach work for the under ones

The work, which will run during 2022-23, is being targeted at the 20 per cent of under fives living in the most deprived areas – around 5,000 children. The first project is called Steps Ahead and is aimed at families with children under one. More than £900,000 has been set aside from the government’s Contain Outbreak Management Fund to fund this.

The project is being run in partnership with the two voluntary sector organisations, Aspire and Barnado’s, which run the children’s and families centres.

Aspire are providing support in Gloucester, Stroud and the Forest of Dean, while Barnado’s are focussing on Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and the Cotswolds.

Both services will offer an outreach programme for families in need who are not accessing children’s and family centres. This will be done through investment in family support workers and community nursery nurses.  

Meanwhile, the health visitor team will deliver bespoke health-related advice and support, including tailored packages of care and group work on child development and providing nutritional, sleep and behaviour advice as well as supporting family relationships and mental health. 

Extra support for older infants

The second scheme is called Best Start in Life and has received £240,000 of funding. This is aimed at infants aged one to four.

It includes providing some one-to-one support for children starting school in 2022 and increasing uptake of the free early years places for children aged two in areas of high deprivation.

Access to early start groups, which include support from speech and language therapists and occupational therapists, will be expanded as part of this. This will be supported by the recruitment of extra nursery nurses to work as part of the health visiting team. And up to 300 early years practitioners are also going to receive training in trauma-informed practice and resilient communities.

Councillor Stephen Davies, cabinet member for children’s safeguarding and early years at Gloucestershire County Council said: “It is clear the pandemic has had a significant impact upon families with very young children, who may have missed out on opportunities for peer support, socialising and learning together.”

“We want to make sure families are able to access all of the support they need to give children the best start in life. This will provide additional high-quality, tailored group and individual services to families with babies and toddlers at a time when it is needed most.”

Contact details

Beth Bennett-Britton, Maternity, Children and Young People Public Health Consultant, Gloucestershire County Council: [email protected]