Hackney early interaction project

The Hackney Early Interaction Project is a pilot project which has gathered and applied learning on how local services can best facilitate children’s early language development. The project has taken a deep dive in to one neighbourhood in the London Borough of Hackney, by mapping and building on the strengths of current local systems to enhance the universal and early language offer in the community. The Hackney Early Interaction project has been funded through the North-East London Integrated Commissioning Board (NEL ICB) Place Based Partnership from September 2022-March 2024.

View allChildren and young people articles
View allEarly Years articles

The challenge

The number of children achieving age-expected levels in communication and language at the end of reception in Hackney is lower than the national average (Department for Education, 2023). It is likely that this is linked to social disadvantage and health inequalities experienced by local families, as Hackney is an area of high social deprivation, where it is likely that more than fifty percent of children are starting school with communication needs (Bercow Review: 10 Years On, 2018). Many of these children have the potential to be strong communicators if they access timely support and opportunities for their language to develop. 

The solution

It is well-researched that early intervention provided at a universal and targeted level, consistently implemented across a range of environments, can support children to achieve positive early language outcomes. The Hackney Early Interaction Project has brought together those with a stake in supporting children’s language, including a range of services across healthcare, voluntary organisations and the local authority, to co-produce support for children’s language at a universal and targeted level.

The impact

  • Engagement with stakeholders has been a priority in supporting understanding of current strengths and barriers to children accessing local support for their language development. Information regarding workforce confidence in supporting children’s early language development was gathered from staff at local children’s centres, nurseries, libraries, healthcare and voluntary grassroot organisations, and feedback from parents was achieved via a variety of methods, including interviews, surveys, a parent focus group, and an outreach stall at the local shopping centre.
  • A steering group of representatives across community services and three local parents has guided the direction of the project, and supported a co-produced response to challenges raised. This also supported communication between different services, enabling staff to signpost parents to other activities and support available locally to them. 
  • Parent and carer workshops around supporting children’s early language development were co-produced and co-delivered by the Project Manager/Speech and Language Therapist and a local parent. Pre- and post-measures of parent self-reported confidence reflected an increase in confidence in supporting their child’s language development, and feedback reflected the importance of opportunities for peer support: “It was nice to discuss different strategies parents are implementing to help with their children’s language development, also nice to hear we all go through the same struggles.” Workshops took place in voluntary sector organisations working with targeted communities, to increase the reach of support to communities who had been identified as particularly benefiting from additional support. 
  • A public outreach event was organised to provide families with birth-five year olds with information about local children’s services, and access advice and resources to support their child's development. 93.5 percent of surveyed parents reported that they would recommend the event to other families, and families also reported that being involved in activities to support their child’s development and getting information about local services were the most helpful parts of the event. 120 families registered with the local children’s centre to receive further information about activities and service. The free “family fun day” event was arranged to take place in a public park to support access for families who may not receive messages about local services via traditional routes, with over 30 staff members across a range of children’s services attending to run information stalls about their service and promote language-enriching activities like story-time. The event also included a bouncy castle, face-painting, and free Turkish food! 
  • Training was delivered to 40 colleagues across different sectors, including voluntary sector staff, health visitors, and library staff, to support confidence in sharing advice and information with parents for supporting children’s language. All attendees reported the training as useful and reported increased confidence in providing advice to parents to support their child’s language development. The project has also collaborated with the Verbo app, which has been designed to support staff facilitate children’s communication development in schools, to support the development of training materials and content for nursery staff. It is hoped that providing digital training materials will support nursery staff with access to training, in additional to the local Family Hubs training offer, in the context of high staff turnover and rising need.
  • Resources have been created in popular languages spoken by families in the local area to support access to advice and information for families with English as an Additional Language.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The Hackney early interaction project  has focused on partnership between services to achieve a combined response to the challenge of supporting children’s language at a population level. Key stakeholders across services were identified and involved throughout the project, to identify shared areas of focus for the project, and continue a shared response to these past the end of the project. Co-production with parents was also a core focus of this project to support project outcomes which reflect local need and are sustainable. 

However, the fixed-term nature of this project poses challenges for sustainability. We are currently taking learning gained from engagement with stakeholders and communicating this with strategic partners across local authority and healthcare services, to integrate this into a universal and targeted speech and language pathway shared across services. An example of this is the creation of a “language and communication lead” in the Family Hubs. This is a staff member in the Family Hub who is responsible for disseminating information about speech and language development with colleagues and parents. This staff member will be supported by additional training opportunities provided by the Speech and Language Therapy team. It is anticipated that the role of the language and communication lead will increase the reach of advice from the Speech and Language Therapy team, empower staff and parents in the Family Hub, and promote language and communication as a shared responsibility and focus.

Feedback from services involved in the project reflects a greater sense of partnership between services across sectors and with parents to support children’s language development, and enthusiasm for ongoing links between services forged during the project. By embedding this into a universal and targeted pathway agreed with strategic leads, we hope that the outcomes and learning of this project will help to avoid silo working, and provide a local, collaborative approach to supporting children’s language development.


For more information on the project please email [email protected]