Cornwall: helping the most in need

Cornwall Council has commissioned a service to work with all young parents. For those with the most complex needs, such as those with a history of domestic abuse and child protection issues, there is a range of bespoke support available. This case study is an example of the work that councils are doing to support young parents.

The challenge

Young parents tend to have higher rates of vulnerabilities.

In recognition of this, Cornwall Council funds the WILD Young Parents Project to work with young mothers, fathers and their children.

But as teenage pregnancy rates have fallen, the service has found a growing proportion of the people they have been left working with have complex needs.

Currently one in four families the service works with is subject to some form of safeguarding or child protection intervention, while for half there is a history of domestic violence and a third of young fathers have been involved with the criminal justice system.

The solution

The team works closely with midwives, health visitors and social services to identify young parents that need support. The core service offered involves group work in family hubs and home visits to complement the formal antenatal and postnatal provision. There are 10 weekly women’s groups and two for men.

The project works with all young parents 19 or under or, where there are additional vulnerabilities, such as for care leavers or people with learning disabilities, they go up to the age of 23.

There are a range of schemes that also provide extra support in both group and oneon-one environments. This includes Music Makes Me Happy, which includes music sessions and a choir, and a range of artsbased projects. The service also runs sports and DIY activities with young dads.

For those families with the highest risks and most complex needs there is the First Steps project. WILD Manager Jo Davies said: “This work is focussed on building attachment, healthy relationships, dealing with emotions and routine. We work closely with other services – substance misuse or domestic violence charities for example to get that support where needed.”

The impact

The service works with about 600 children and young people a year. Some will spend just a few months receiving help, but for others it can last a number of years.

Nearly nine in 10 report it has improved their confidence as parenting and bond with their child. Other outcomes are also impressive. For example, one in four smokers stop smoking, one in five gain employment, seven in 10 have improved their diet and eight in 10 are doing sustained physical activity.

Abbey, a 22-year-old from Penzance, is just one of the many young parents whose lives have been transformed. She has received help from WILD for the past four years and now has two sons, aged three and one.

“WILD helped me leave an abusive relationship, which had led to my children being part of social care plans. WILD supported me through this process and we are now happy, healthy and safe.

“Their on-going support and projects have helped build my self-esteem and confidence, as well as helping me learn skills to parent to the best of my ability. It has also given me the confidence to reapply for university and I have secured a place on a course that I am passionate about.”

Lessons learned

Developing evidence-based practice has been key to the success of the service, according to Jo. “When we started in 1992 we just had one youth worker. Since then we have grown. We now have 20 core staff and another 10 freelance workers. We have focussed on what the evidence tells us works.”

This has led WILD to employ five practitioners trained in dedicated approaches to dealing with complexities – Signs of Safety and trauma informed care.

She said: “It is clear that adverse experiences in childhood lead to problems being repeated. Dealing with these issues are complex so to have specially-trained practitioners is very important.”

The service has also sought to tap into other resources. It is involved with a project called Fare Share, which sees local supermarkets giving away food that would otherwise go to waste.

There is also a scheme called Winter Wellbeing, which redistributes funds where older people have decided to not accept their winter fuel allowance. This has been used to buy winter coats and rain covers for prams.

How is the approach being sustained?

The project is constantly looking at new ways of working. One of the key themes for the future is to do something that builds resilience among these young people, said Jo.

Another project that is already under way is the Big Lottery-backed Building Futures Project. It is helping young mothers whose children have safeguarding plans or who have experienced, or are at risk of, repeat removals of children from their care.

Caseworkers work one-to-one with their clients to give them a voice when working with agencies and help them understand the process with the aim of improving the chances of positive outcomes.

The scheme is halfway through its four-year lifecycle. It is being evaluated as it goes before a decision is taken on its long-term future.


Jo Davies Manager, WILD Young Parents Project