Children’s Centres and Early Years Settings: Engagement of families in greatest need through Children’s Centres with evidence of how their lives and those of their children have improved.
Organisation submitting example
Local authority/local area:
‘Journey to Change’ is a parental self-assessment tool developed originally within the Children’s Centre Payment by Results trial. The tool enables Blackpool’s Children’s Centres to measure parents’ progress across six key areas - motivation, aspirations, relationships, self-esteem, ability to manage money and making the best use of their time. This has subsequently been adapted and changed slightly as a result of using it with families and feedback from families.
1. The context and rationale
Blackpool’s Children’s Centres were receiving Outstanding and Good at all their Ofsted inspections but they were aware that collating and collecting data on some of the ‘softer’ outcomes for families was a challenge. They knew they were doing everything they could to support the very vulnerable families they worked with but how could they prove it?
The Local Authority (LA) set to work to see how it could support its Children’s Centres to collect this data.
In July 2011, Blackpool Local Authority’s application to join the Children’s Centre Payment by Results trial was successful. The trial was an opportunity and catalyst to explore the development of robust outcome measures that support the Children’s Centre Core Purpose.
As part of the trial, various national measures were explored and feedback from the local authority was sought. One of the original proposed measures was ‘parents self-reported aspirations and self-esteem’. This measure was not taken forward as a national measure due to the lack of being able to collect these outcomes in robust data i.e. to pay out on the results nationally, and the considerable resource that would be required to collect it.
However, it was a measure Blackpool wanted to look at trying to collect. It was felt it was important to explore this locally as we knew from case studies that an improvement in parents self-reported aspirations and self-esteem supports the improvement in outcomes for young children and their families.
In consultation with parents and Children’s Centre staff, Blackpool developed a ‘Journey to Change’ self-assessment tool. The tool was designed to enable Children’s Centres to measure parent progress and also for parents to see their progression over time across six key areas - motivation, aspirations, social networks and relationships, self-esteem, ability to manage money and making the best use of their time.
‘Journey to Change’ has made it possible for Blackpool’s Children’s Centres to track the small steps that lead to longer term outcomes. Importantly, the tool has also supported parents with self-assessment and taking control and ownership of their own Journey to Change. Many parents have reported that seeing their ‘journey’ recorded in this way has inspired them to continue to move forward and how it has helped them to support their children at home.
2. The practice
Before developing the ‘Journey to Change’ self-assessment tool, existing tools to measure soft outcomes were considered. However it was felt there was a need to develop a bespoke tool to meet the specific needs of Blackpool’s Children’s Centres and their families. As the sixth most deprived area nationally, we felt that we needed something that would support our most vulnerable parents and we also wanted the parents to be part of the development so that they too had ownership. An overview of soft outcomes/informal learning measurement tools by a consultant informed the practice as the tool developed.
The tool was drafted and then further developed in consultation with a multidisciplinary Learning Strategy group which included representatives from Children’s Centres, Adult and Family Learning. Parental consultation was arranged with the Children’s Centres and a number of parents gave their feedback. The parents particularly shaped the design of the tool. This has stood us in good stead as they felt ownership and were willing to participate.
The parental feedback was very positive and they said they felt it would work well on a one to one basis and liked the structure of the progression up the scale. Originally the picture card used with the ‘Journey to Change’ tool depicted a road going up and over a hill and represented a journey. However the parents felt that this picture did not reflect their community. Based on this feedback the picture was changed to a picture of Blackpool Tower and represented a journey to the top of the tower. The parents really liked this and one said “It now feels more like ours.”
The original ‘Journey to Change’ tool consisted of six picture cards for each of the areas with ten statements on each. The progressive statements are marked 1 to 10 and the parent is asked which statement best represents how they are currently feeling, for example, Aspiration scale one - ‘I don’t have anything to aim for’ to Aspiration scale ten - ‘I feel able to set future goals for my family’. This was later developed where separate individual cards were produced without the numbers on and parents were asked to choose which card best described where they were on the continuum.
An Excel spreadsheet was created to capture the progress made by parents and display the results as figures and in a graph format. The graphs are a very visual way of sharing and showing parents where their strengths and areas for development are. They can also easily see their progress across all the areas. The spreadsheet also enables the Children’s Centre to collate the interventions put in place and the family’s level of need.
Guidance and training for the tool aimed at Centre Staff was drafted, explaining that the Children’s Centres will support parents to complete the self-assessment every six weeks. Regular Learning Strategy meeting were held to provide guidance and support on Journey to Change and the Learning Passport to support the embedding of the tool. As transience is an issue in Blackpool, the guidance also explained that when a family moved to another Children’s Centre reach area in Blackpool, the ‘Journey to Change’ must be transferred to the appropriate Children’s Centre to ensure the parents’ progress can continue to be monitored. The guidance also recommended that Children’s Centres reassure parents that people will start in different places on the 1 – 10 scale and that they will move both backwards and forward along their ‘Journey to Change’ as their situation alters.
In order to ensure those families in greatest need were included in the trial, Children’s Centres were asked to identify parents from the bottom two most deprived Lower Super Output Area profiles in the Children’s Centre reach area. Children’s Centres identified appropriate parents and implemented the tool.
Children’s Centres are subjected to an Annual Conversation which is part of the Local Authorities monitoring role. Each Centre has this conversation where progress on previous targets and KPIs set are discussed and future targets and KPIs are set for the next year. There is also discussion around the Centre’s performance generally. During the Children’s Centres’ Annual Conversations, each Children’s Centre has been set a target to support at least five families who had to progress by at least 25% each. It was felt that by asking for a target for each parent, rather than a joint target for all five, reduced the risk of cherry picking families and so creating a perverse incentive.
The ‘Journey to Change’ tool was originally trialled for eight months before being mainstreamed and we started to see real success. Centres reported that families enjoyed seeing their progress and many for the first time felt that they were making a difference to their family.
As time passed and the tool was used, it became apparent that there was a need to link the Family and Adult Learning courses to the ‘Journey to Change’ to support the progression and interventions needed. A multi-agency approach to learning in the Children’s Centres had been developed with Family and Adult Learning, Health, Speech and Language Therapy and Children’s Centre staff all delivering courses and training at a variety of levels. It was felt that this training needed to be collated and put into a structure which offered progression for parents to support their child’s development and for them to move onto accredited courses, volunteering and work. Examples of these courses includes: Early Reading and Fun with Numbers, Money Talks, Money doesn’t Grow on Trees, Confidence Building, Food Safety, Building on Volunteering to Build a Career, Stress Management and Relaxation, Baby Massage, Cooking on a Budget, Health and Safety, Safety Inside and Outside the Home, Talk to your Baby, Babbling Babies, Your Make the Difference etc.
Many parents were attending many similar courses and did not progress onto further learning and Centre staff could not provide the advice needed to support their learning journey. The multi-disciplinary Learning Strategy Group met and listed all the training and learning courses that were delivered for families. The group produced the Opening Doors model which consisted of four doors behind which are different options and listing all the training available but put it in a structure and progressive format. Alongside this, a Learning Passport was designed, again in consultation with parents, as it would be their passport to learning. The aim of the Learning Passport is to support parents to take control of their own learning and provides them with a clear pathway for progression. The Passport is the parent’s record of achievement in learning and they can see how much they have achieved and get advice on where to go next.
The Opening Doors and Learning Passport were designed to complement and build on the ‘Journey to Change’ tool. In this way, Children’s Centre staff could encourage parents to use the ‘Journey to Change’ tool to self-assess where they were over the six areas and then see which courses and learning the parent should access to ensure they received the support they needed. For example, if the parent scores themselves lower on managing money they are supported to attend the budget management courses on the Opening Doors pathway.
3. Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families
For the three years all Children’s Centres in Blackpool have been using the ‘Journey to Change’ tool and successfully measuring ‘softer’ outcomes.
A Children’s Centre Ofsted inspection report has commented: do we have any more?
From very low starting points parents’ confidence and willingness to improve their life chances and learning opportunities are embraced by many. The newly established ‘Journey to Change’ programme builds on aspects such as motivation, managing money and effective use of time. Early outcomes show participants are more confident and able to identify further skills they require to become job ready. (Claremont, Sept 2012).
Initial feedback on the ‘Journey to Change’ tool from the Children’s Centres was that the tool took longer than expected to complete. This is not necessarily a negative as the Children’s Centres reported that the ‘Journey to Change’ tool generated a lot of conversation around key topics with the families, such as finance. A number of Workers commented that on completing the tool with parents, previously undisclosed information such as financial or relationship issues came to light, and they were then able to offer support to the parents.
Feedback from parents:
• “I have found this both helpful and positive to my life, it has been interesting to see how my life changes so much and how this affects my emotions I have enjoyed having the chance to think about how I am feeling and not just my child or family. I think it’s easy to get lost under the pressure of daily life and just stopping to think simply about key factors, broken down into bullet points was very beneficial.”
• “I feel I have become more focused over the past few months, gained employment and begun a Degree. I’m sure that knowing there are people who care about how I am feeling has helped. I would recommend Journey to Change to anybody”.
• Relationships – “I have moved away from socialising with people who didn’t have children and were going out all the time. I am now friends with people with children.”
• Meaningful use of time – “I am going out doing activities with the children instead of staying in the house all the time.”
• Managing money - “Without the help and support from the children’s centre I wouldn’t be where I am now. Especially with financial matters.”
• Debt management – “I feel better now that there is something being done, I feel I can cope much better and I’m learning how to manage my money better.”
• Motivation and moving into volunteering – “I feel I can do more than sitting around having brew all day. Any time you need any help in crèche just ask as I’d rather be doing that than sitting around in the café.”
• “I have found this so useful and I have told my friends about it, I have told them to ask if they can use it and some are.”
• “Just being able to talk to someone about my life and getting support about managing my time has meant that we are never late for school and nursery now, the children are much happier.”
In the first year a Children’s Centre Deputy Manager reported that ten parents were involved in both the ‘Journey to Change’ and the Learning Passport. Within a five month period, four of those parents had successfully moved into volunteering or employment. The Deputy Manager felt the ‘Journey to Change’ process had supported the parents to focus on their own pathway to employment and that the ‘Journey to Change’ and the Opening Doors and Learning Passport had accelerated their progression, provided the parent and Children’s Centre staff with a structure and given the parent ownership of their own destiny.
Throughout the last two years 172 parents have completed the Journey to Change. All parents have moved forward using Journey to Change but the figures below show those who made a significant and sustained shift. These percentages are movement across all six areas of development.
• 36% parents moved forward by 25% or more in 2012/13
• 17% increase in the number of participants from 2012 to 2014
• 32% parents moved forward by 25% or more in 2013/14
4. Sustaining and replicating your practice
One initial challenge was that often parents did not recognise where they were realistically on the ‘Journey to Change’ scales. Often they thought they were a few steps ahead of where they actually were. At first Children’s Centre staff accepted what the parents said and placed them where they assessed themselves. Training and support was offered to staff to provide them with the skills to appropriately support, challenge and discuss with parents what the scales actually meant. This had to be done sensitively to ensure the parent still had ownership of the final scale.
Parents must recognise their own competences or lack of, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. Initially there was a dip in Journey to Change scores as parents realised that they had scored themselves too highly at the start. This was factored into the targets set for the Centres and staff were encouraged to support and challenge parents in order for the self-assessments to be as realistic as possible. To support both Centres and Parents with this issue and enable a more accurate self-assessed starting place to be achieved it was decided to produce separate individual cards with the scale points on and remove the numbers. By looking at the statements (10 in each of the 6 areas) and by choosing the ones that they felt reflected their current position parents were able to self-assess without worrying if they were getting a low number. The staff could then transfer this to the spreadsheet and still obtain the data that was needed. This has proved to be very successful as parents can accurately reflect where they are in their lives without the need to feel they should be a higher score.
Identifying appropriate parents is key to the successful implementation. Initially Children’s Centre staff identified a few inappropriate parents and the tool was ineffective. This is particularly the case if the parent does not wish to engage or want to progress. The tool is designed for parents who would benefit from support in the six areas and parents who, with the support of their Children’s Centre, would be on the pathway to employment. The tool is less effective when used with a parent with very complex problems, such as mental health alongside substance misuse, as other interventions would be required before the parent is ready and able to move toward on this pathway.
As well as capturing quantitative data, it was felt equally important to capture qualitative data. Therefore each Children’s Centre was also asked to record case studies. The case studies proved useful in showing the parents journey and progress. However we also wanted to capture the impact the parents’ progression had made on their children, and a case study template was drafted to enable Children’s Centre’s to capture this.
As parents were involved in designing and shaping both the ‘Journey to Change’ tool and the Learning Passport, the tools are parent focussed and reflect Blackpool’s local needs. Continuous consultation and parental feedback has been extremely useful and has contributed to the success of the Journey to Change and the Learning Passport.
The next steps for Journey to Change are to create a seventh outcome tracker specifically to measure the volunteer pathway. Many parents have moved on to volunteering after going through the Journey to Change and this addition would scaffold them through the volunteering process by providing additional support, tracking their participation and further empowering them. A newly employed Community Worker will support parents to develop and shape the new tracker for volunteering. Parents will be fully involved with this development and have requested this as an extension of the Journey to Change.
The Local Authority and Children’s Centres have learnt that it is possible to collect data that had seemed impossible and for it to be meaningful for families. The families have really benefited from the one-to-one support in a structured format and have felt empowered by their ability to take control of their own lives.
Although the Payment by Results pilot provided some funding for the development time and printing costs, the project was run using current and existing resources in the Children’s Centres. The process has now been subsumed as part of the Children’s Centre staff role and annual targets are set by the Local Authority to ensure its continuation.
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