Merton: helping young parents access children's centres

The London Borough of Merton has encouraged its Family Nurse Partnership and health visiting service to work closely with local children’s centres. It has seen the number of young parents using the centres rapidly increase. This case study is an example of the work that councils are doing to support young parents.

The challenge

Children’s centres provide valuable services to the families of pre-school children, bringing together family support, health and education. Accessing them is vital to ensure children get a good start in life and parents are properly supported.

In the London Borough of Merton there are two main children’s centres and nine linked sites that offer a comprehensive range of support for families across the borough. But over time it had become clear that there was further scope to engage young parents as very few were using the centres.

The solution

In recent years Central London Community Healthcare, which provides the Family Nurse Partnership and health visiting services, has been tasked with working closely with children’s centres.

Over the years this has led to a number of steps being taken. These include:

  • FNP staff introducing young parents to children’s centres and delivering client events, open play sessions and baby massage
  • helping settle non-English speakers by introducing them to young parents from similar backgrounds
  • the creation of a health visiting service for young homeless mothers
  • running young parent groups in children’s centres, which are now averaging between six and eight families per week
  • promoting other services available for young parents, such as Little Village, a charity which provides free baby clothes and toys
  • close liaison with the targeted early help offer within children’s centres to support parents and their children who have complex needs
  • children’s centre staff taking young parents out to low or no cost activities such as a local city farm.

The aim of this work has been to ensure young parents are introduced to children’s centres in a positive way and to identify parents who need extra support.

The FNP support lasts for the first two years of the child’s life so Merton felt it was important that parents were helped with accessing other local services during this time.

There has also been a focus on supporting parents to take up their free early education and childcare entitlements, which support parents back into studying, training and employment.

Councillor Kelly Braund, Merton’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, added: “A key element of providing support to Merton families is to engage them in support programmes when their children are babies. The partnership work has created great opportunities for our young parents to learn and develop.”

The impact

Before the programme started, only a handful of young parents were attending children’s centres. Today there are nearly 50 families with a parent aged 19 or under that are registered.

The feedback from young parents illustrates the impact it has had. One said: “It has helped me to be more social and my child develop social skills. Any issues that I’ve had I’ve been able to get advice and help with.”

Meanwhile, another parent added: “I have come into my own as a young mum – there has been lots of different information about feeding, sleeping, teething and more.” Lessons learned Building trust is essential with this client group, according to Councillor Braund.

“We have found that it is important to keep the same staff members running the drop-in groups so they can build a relationship with the young parents.

“Once you have done that, you can start to introduce them to other services – whether it is parenting classes or child development sessions. There, they will mix in with other parents who are older, but establishing that trust first is a must.”

How the approach is being sustained?

Merton places great emphasis on maintaining a flexible approach. Organisation of the groups is planned in advance and is informed through conversations with the young parents who attend and the feedback they give. This has led to Merton adapting what it does. For example, it has started offering cookery sessions that have proved very popular and a good fun way to get them thinking about healthy diets.


Kate Jennings Children, Schools and Families Commissioning Manager, Merton Council