Ready Steady Go – Improving parents access to services

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Child Poverty
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Development and delivery of effective area-wide child poverty strategies
  • Child Poverty needs assessment

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Tyne Gateway Trust

Local authority/local area:

North Tyneside
A Tyne Gateway Trust Project

The context and rationale

The idea for this project came from the need to signpost and sometimes ‘hand hold’ parents into projects which were being developed as part of the Tyne Gateway Child Poverty Innovation Pilot. Twenty parents were employed as Community Entrepreneurs to develop local projects aimed at improving training and employment opportunities in areas of deprivation with parents who had little experience of working. 

The Community Entrepreneur who developed the Ready Steady Go project worked as a parent/volunteer in the local Sure Start Children’s Centre and was also well respected and trusted in the community. She had previously worked as the Specialist Engagement Community Entrepreneur and in that role was tasked to engage with hard to reach parents and signpost them to other projects. Ninety new parents were engaged and accessed their local Sure Start Children’s Centre for the first time.

Many of the parents in this target population had little or no contact with services and were not registered with a GP or dentist, and engagement in Sure Start Children’s Centres was identified as an ongoing priority and a first step to support parents and improve outcomes for children.

A four week course (2 hours a week) was developed building on the experience of the specialist signposting role. The course was designed to appeal to local parents living in Howdon and on the Meadowell Estate. The course was an opportunity to gain some basic skills but also to meet with other parents living in a similar situation, gain support and access other services for any specialist needs. 

The Community Entrepreneur had identified a gap in services partly through her own experience of accessing services but also through friends and neighbours in the community who voiced their fear about asking for help from professionals. Parents also described a lack of understanding of the different roles of staff in Sure Start Children’s Centres and what their link was to Children’s Social Care. This increased the anxiety of some parents to go to the centre. Research carried out by Wallsend Jobcentre Plus identified families from this area who have little uptake of services for children or understanding of what ‘good parenting‘ is.

Aims of the project: 
• To identify parents who have not accessed Sure Start Children’s Centre services. 
• To respond to the needs of some parents for support in accessing Sure Start Children’s Centres and other Children’s services.
• To break down barriers between parents and professionals.
• To develop a better understanding of the barriers facing some parents in accessing the help and support they need.
• To increase confidence of parents attending the course.
• To improve parenting skills such as establishing healthy routines for children, improving diet and attendance at school.

The practice

The introduction to North Tyneside’s Children and Young People’s Plan 2010-14 states that “A strong correlation between risk to children and deprivation has been identified so strengthening the way we work with families to reduce child poverty is a major feature of this whole strategy.”

Integral to this project is a different approach to working with families which is fundamental to the ethos of the Tyne Gateway Trust. This approach is characterised by truly valuing the experience of parents in the community who are living in poverty and using that experience to identify solutions to gaps in services and breaking down barriers between professionals and families where there is unmet need.

Informal research was carried out in the community to establish what the needs of parents were and what they were interested in which would bring them into the Sure Start Children’s Centre for the first time. 

The Ready Steady Go course

The Ready, Steady, Go course is a 4 week course with one session per week which both parents and children access. The sessions alternate between arts and crafts and healthy dinner options, this is co-delivered with the community dietician.
o Arts and crafts delivers different activities e.g. gluing and sticking, colouring and draws on topical subjects as appropriate e.g. Halloween, Easter, Christmas.
o Healthy dinner options offers them the opportunity to make low cost, healthy dinners with their children e.g. fresh sandwiches containing salad and made with their choice from a range of different breads, stripy pudding containing different fruit options.
All sessions provide refreshments of fruit and milk.

Personal contacts were used to find the first cohort of parents who attended the course. Informal support was provided to parents who were interested, including advice on parenting, support around financial concerns, housing issues, and school attendance. 

Concerns around housing and the offer of a direct contact with a housing officer was a key incentive for some parents who had been struggling to resolve issues in their homes. Also reassurance for some families who had contact (current or historical) with Children’s Social Care was important as some parents needed convincing that there would be no reporting back to social workers unless there was a Child Protection concern. 

Negotiations took place with the two Children’s Centres and other providers to ensure the cost of providing the course was minimal. The venue and crèche are provided with no charge from the Children’s Centre. The cooking session is provided free by Community Health Workers. 

The course includes practical activities but also covers issues such as improving budgeting skills and sessions delivered by the local Jobcentre Plus Advisor and the Housing Repairs Officer. The Community Entrepreneur attends all the courses and delivers the sessions on arts and crafts. The course is marketed locally using ‘drop in’ and ‘word of mouth’ predominantly in order to engage prospective parents. Food vouchers worth £50 were given to parents who attended the first course but this incentive has not been continued in subsequent courses. Up to 10 parents attend each course.

As part of the course, each individual parent will develop a personal action plan for how they want to move forward with accessing services in the future. This plan will include further training possibilities and support to access specialist services if needed.

Key Partners 

These are: Howdon Children’s Centre, Riverside Children’s Centre, the Working Homes Outreach Team, Job Centre Plus, Family Support, Community Dietician, Food and Health workers and training providers.

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

An internal evaluation was carried out on the Ready Steady Go Course which includes pre- and post-course information, some which relates to outcomes.

Before the course
As of July 2011, Ready Steady Go had engaged 12 ‘hard to reach’ parents over two courses which ran for four weeks. Prior to their engagement none of these parents had:
• ever accessed any children’s centre
• ever accessed any sessions run by the library services
• ever accessed family learning
• accessed any parent toddler group
• accessed any other service
• done any training.

Outcomes from Ready Steady Go
As a result of going on the Ready Steady Go course, all of the parents were signposted to other courses/activities that they were interested in. All of them are now accessing services in the children’s centre, and one parent is now attending a Hair and Beauty foundation certificate course at a local college. All but one of the parents has gone on to attend a 10 week cooking course.

Other outcomes described by parents included improved stability in the home due to better routines which had been initiated as part of attendance on the course-this also had an impact on attendance at school. Young children who attended the Sure Start Children’s Centre while their parents were attending the course enjoyed the contact with peers and showed improvements in behaviour. Parents and children also engaged more in activities together. For many families their housing situation improved and repairs were carried out. Many families also accessed school uniforms via the Community Entrepreneur’s contact with schools and second hand outlets in the community. 

The number of parents who have attended the course. 12 
The % of parents who attending who have not been to the SSCC before. 100%
The % of parents who complete the course. 100%
The % of parents with 100% attendance for the 4 weeks. 100%
The % of parents who go on to access further training opportunities. 100% 
The % of parents providing positive feedback on the course. 100%

All parents participating on the course were asked to complete an ‘outcomes web’ at both the beginning and end of the course to rate how they felt about their circumstances. The number that showed a positive increase is shown below:

• Increased confidence 86%
• Raised aspirations 71%
• Happier with services being accessed 100%
• Happier with employment/education/training 100%
• Improved health and well being 43%
• Improvement in child's quality of life 57%
• Better able to manage money 86%
• Happier about income 100%

Feedback from parents
“To give me something to do, get me and my youngest daughter out of the house and to learn different things.”
“I thought it would be a good idea to meet new people.”
“Michelle Jones got me on an English course and she helped me with getting me safety gates and some clothes for my child. I and my partner are really grateful for Michelle’s help and she has told me if I need anything I just need to contact her. Thank you.”

Feedback from Employers/Partners
The Community Entrepreneur… “does a fantastic job in bringing in families from the community and always has a smile for everyone”
The Community Entrepreneur “works tirelessly in bringing in hard to reach families not only to her course but also to both of the children’s centres for engagement. Michelle’s skills are that she is able to meet parents on their level and be non judgemental being the bridge between hard to reach families and the children’s centres.” 

Case study example
Betty is a mother of 6 children, she lives with the father and neither of them are in employment. Betty and 2 of the children are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance. 

The family had severe financial problems, after bills and debts were paid off each week the family only had £20 for food and everything else left out of their benefit entitlements. The Community Entrepreneur (CE) knew the family from the community and they had spoken to her about the pressures they were under due to their high level of debt and explained that a lot of this was due to the majority of the furniture and household goods being on hire purchase from a weekly payment store.

The CE went to visit the family home to identify what help could be given. There was no other professional engagement with this family at that time and none of the children had ever been to the Children’s Centre. The CE identified furniture and electrical goods that could be returned to the weekly payment store and replaced with suitable second-hand donations. This included most things apart from the washing machine, which was deemed essential. 

By doing this the family now have an extra £220 (approx) per week to spend.

Further to the initial engagement with the CE, the family attended the Ready Steady Go course, and the mother has progressed onto to two further Healthy Cooking courses, and the entire family is still engaging with the Children’s Centre and staying in contact with the CE.

Of the parents who attended the Ready Steady Go course to date:

o 1 has gained employment at a large DIY store following support from the Community Entrepreneur to complete their Level 1 English and the application process.
o 1 has gone on to further education i.e. training to be a hairdresser.
o 10 have gone on to access the community dietician and completed a 6 week basic cooking course.

The community dietician 
Working with the community dietician on a weekly basis the parents develop skills that allow them to produce healthy, low cost (under £5) meals which they take home for them and their families. This leads to them being able to cook more healthily in the home and improve the diet for the whole family. 

School Attendance
The evidence below relates to school attendance for those children who participated with their families on the Ready Steady Go course.
From when the parents and children undertook the course (May 2011) to December 2011 it was found that of the 27 children:

• 48% (13 children) increased their attendance
• 18.5% (5 children) maintained their attendance at 100%
• 33% (9 children) had reduced attendance; however 3 of these were by less than 1%. 
After investigation, we discovered that of the remaining 6 children:
• 1 child had a bout of illness during this period 
• 1 child was living in care and not in the family home (see below).

While analysing the attendance records (September 2010 to December 2011) we noted that for one child in a family of five children their attendance had decreased by around 11% while attendance for the other four children had increased (between 2% and 13%). On further investigation, it transpired that the child whose attendance had dropped did not live with the mother but was living in care.
It is also interesting to note that since September 2011 this child’s attendance has begun to increase slightly (just over 1%). This coincides with the child commencing overnight contact with his mother.

Helping others to replicate your practice

Because this project provides excellent value for money, it will be possible to continue to run similar courses in other Sure Start Children’s Centres and also look for more parents in the areas already identified. The challenge in replicating the project elsewhere is to replicate the role and the unique skills of the Community Entrepreneur. 
Working from within a community and communicating on equal terms with parents has enabled this project to be successful. 

The aims of the project are also closely aligned with the North Tyneside Children and Young People’s Plan and the unique approach adopted has been endorsed fully by the Executive Director of Children’s Services.

Social Return On Investment 
It proved difficult to undertake a cost benefit analysis for any of the Tyne Gateway projects as the majority of benefits are from a societal perspective and include benefits such as improvements in behaviour. Therefore a Social Return on Investment (SROI) was calculated for each of the projects and Ready Steady Go shows that there are £3.55 in estimated savings and benefits to the public purse for every £1 expenditure on the project. 
Ready Steady Go could potentially support around 40 parents/families each year but for the purposes of SROI the benefits have been calculated on the outcomes for 4 families over a ten year period of accessing services and/or training.

There are some tensions between delivering services to families and engaging with parents in an informal way which could be described as mentoring and the highly professionalised role of some staff such as health visitors, teachers and social workers. Staff performed a vital service in communities and have invaluable skills but there is also a need for some families to have someone who can support parents in accessing those sorts of services and communicating with those staff who for some can be intimidating.

There is also a tension at times with some of the very process driven and hierarchical structures in local authorities and health services. Again those structures and processes are there for a reason but at times they create substantial barriers for some people to access the support and services they need.

These tensions need to be recognised and different ways of working with families need to be tried out which are more family friendly and which enable and empower communities.

This example ties into another C4EO example which looks at Community Entrepreneurs.

The links in this example to C4EO’s golden threads are:
Know your communities.
Together with children, parents and families.


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