Family Hubs in Westminster are transforming families’ experience of services, making early help easier to access.
The key ingredients to their success have been:
- the creation of integrated leadership teams
- having ‘whole’ council support for their development
- the introduction of the role of 'family navigator'
- importantly being underpinned by a robust multi-agency training programme.
The achievement of Earned Autonomy status from the national Troubled Families Programme was a bonus which allowed us to accelerate our plans.
Family Hubs brings together early intervention work delivered by the wide spectrum of early help services. This includes health visiting, the Children’s Centre School Health, housing, Child and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHs), maternity services, police, schools and local voluntary service providers such as youth clubs and youth providers.
The hubs are not just a building, but a place where everyone comes together as an integrated workforce, a network of providers who share a common approach to working with children aged between 0-19 and their families.
The managers from the different organisations involved have formed a local Integrated Leadership Team (ILT) who meet monthly with the aim of streamlining and developing joint plans and practice, in response to their understanding of local need.
At Westminster City Council, our experience shows that this can only be fully achieved by investing in a multiagency workforce development programme so that all leaders and staff – regardless of their agency – share a single vision, values and principles.
A physical building is important for families and is the public face of the integration. A place where families can easily find a range of connected services in their community each with a children’s centre as core to their development. The family hubs are underpinned by a new level of integration between professionals, which creates an Early Help System.
Interface Enterprises worked in partnership with Westminster City Council and the three integrated leadership teams to provide a multi-agency training programme. Interface is a national training provider, with wide expertise on carrying out evaluations and consultancy around effective approaches to supporting children and families. They have links across the country and are well placed to collate and share best practice as well as to provide constructive challenge.
Wendy Weal, managing director of Interface, said: 'We knew that Westminster's approach was innovative, and we were delighted and excited to be part of that journey with them.'
This workforce development programme was as much about creating a change in culture as provision of training. Interface worked with managers from across the wide range of partners to create and agree a vision for each family hub area. Open and challenging discussions took place through the newly created core and wider Integrated Leadership Teams resulting in shared action plans, the identification and overcoming of potential blocks and increasingly trusting and transparent relationships.
A four-day modular multi agency training was then provided, which was purposely designed to promote and drive the shared Early Help vision within the delivery of services for children and families in the borough. The training programme allows practitioners from schools, the police, health, the voluntary sector and more to come together in a shared learning environment, enhancing their awareness of other services in the area. This has improved levels of confidence with individual practitioners from a wide range of roles able to provide consistent early help to support vulnerable children and families.
The content includes the shared values and principles underpinning early help; whole family and strength based approaches to working with children and families, effective engagement, building trusting relationships, assessment and risk, boundaries, “team around” approach, taking on the lead professional role, developing one family plan, building resilience in families, the development of motivational interviewing skills and reflective practice.
This has been supplemented by an “Introduction to systemic approaches” course from the Centre for Systemic Social Work in our Bi-Borough and a range of informal information sharing and briefing opportunities.
The new role of the Family Navigator has been central to the integration of services that makes up the Family Hub and to a family’s early access to services. The skilled team recruited to take on this role have acted as catalysts and role models for translating the training into practice, building bridges to and from local schools and GP practices, helping these providers support families into the services they need and then coordinating the network around a family.
Benefits of Family Hubs
Families report to us they get quicker access to services and do not have to repeat their stories. Practitioners see beyond the constraints of their organisational response and see themselves as part of a wider system.
One professional wrote: 'It took me a while to 'get' what a family hub actually is… but the context of client work creates the connections between professionals that are partners within the hub. Each family's experience of the hub will be unique to their set of relationships that their specific needs have created.'
One health visitor commented: 'The Family Hub is an integral part of the community, all the families we work with have benefitted in some way from having the Family Hub available but it is especially important to the vulnerable families.'
Cllr Lorraine Dean, Westminster City Council deputy cabinet member for children’s services, said: 'It is so important that families have a place to access quicker services and don’t have to repeat their stories to numerous professionals.'
Jayne Vertkin is head of early help, family services, at Westminster City Council