Waltham Forest Child Poverty Innovation Pilot Project

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

Waltham Forest

Local authority/local area:

Waltham Forest

The context and rationale

Around 16,000 children in Waltham Forest are growing up in poverty, which is about a third of all our children. Poverty will impact on every aspect of their lives – social, educational and personal. Poorer children do not perform as well at school as their peers at all stages of their development, and the gap widens as they progress through school. This affects young people’s chances and opportunities in later life, with an increased likelihood that they will experience poor health, poor housing, unemployment and poverty into their adulthood. The cycle of poverty is perpetuated in this way.
The evidence base from Waltham Forest shows that there is a higher incidence of poverty risk factors in the borough: we have concentrations of economic and social deprivation; substantial levels of working age people with no/low levels of skills; a higher proportion of parents who are lone parents; and a higher proportion of families with more than three children. These factors work together and act to reinforce and perpetuate the cycle of deprivation and generational poverty.
Waltham Forest’s child poverty project is one of 10 national pilots funded by the Child Poverty Unit of the Department for Education (which was then known as DCSF). Funding is available for two years between 2009 and 2011. As a requirement of our funding, the project is part of a national evaluation process for all of the pilots, which is rigorously assessing how well we are achieving the aims of our original bid and the outcomes we hoped to achieve.

The project aims to provide holistic family-centred multi agency support to families with children aged between 2 and 5 years living in poverty. A key aspect of the project was to bring the service direct to the home of the family, removing any requirement for them to attend council buildings unless necessary. 

The two key drivers that led to the development of the project was the development of Waltham Forest’s Child Poverty Strategy and Think Family reforms, which were created prior to enactment of the recent legislation.

An equalities impact assessment was carried out to determine which equalities groups are most affected by poverty related poor outcomes. The project identified 4 key themes of which the implementation is being monitored by GHK, the national evaluators for the various pilot projects:

• Increase parental employment and access to services
10 parents into employment or training through Worknet
100 families access Children’s Centre services through the project

• Raise family income, including through the improved take up of tax credits and benefits, including local authority administered benefits
7% of families visited awarded new tax credit and housing/council tax benefit
8% of families visited awarded new free school meals

• Build capacity of communities to tackle poverty
50 new parents introduced to each other 
15 parents form the Parent Advisory Group

• Reduce intergenerational poverty by increasing educational attainment of vulnerable children, narrowing the attainment gap
10% stretch target increase in Early Years Foundation Stage results (NI92) for all 5 schools in the pilot area
50% of families reporting increase in time spent reading with their children, based on questionnaires returned.

The practice

A multi agency project team was recruited to deliver the project including the following who provide direct support to families:

1 x Project Lead
1 x Project Manager
1 x Monitoring and Evaluation Officer
5 x Family Support Advisors
1 x Housing Advisor
2 x Revenue and Benefits Advisors. 

The team should also have included a Health Visitor, but we were unable to recruit to the post.

5 primary schools and Children’s Centres and 1 special school were selected to be part of the project based on ward data that evidenced that the catchment areas for the schools and Children’s Centres covered areas of high deprivation. Currently there are an estimated 57,733 people living in the 5 wards containing the pilot schools, of which 2,693 are aged 3-5 years. This population figure is projected to increase to 2,921 by 2011.
The population in the wards is very diverse – there are fewer White British in the area (43%) than in the borough as a whole (56%); more Pakistanis (12.5% compared with 8%); and more Black Caribbean (11.1% compared with 8.2%). There is also a higher concentration of Muslim families in the target wards.
We also know that there continues to be a steady flow of migrants into the borough, with 9,190 people born outside the UK applying for National Insurance numbers during the last four years. They are mainly from South Africa, Pakistan and Poland. 
More people in the target wards live in rented accommodation (48%) than the borough average (41%). Fewer people live in houses, and more live in flats. 
There are high levels of economic deprivation, with a higher number of working age adults on benefits (18.6%) in comparison with the Waltham Forest average (16.8%); a higher proportion of lone parents; and a higher proportion of parents on Job Seekers Allowance and Disability Living Allowance. More claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit than the borough average. 
Health outcomes in the pilot wards are significantly poorer than the borough average, with a higher Standard Mortality Rate (121.1 compared with 109.4), a lower life expectancy than the borough average and a higher emergency admissions rate. 
Referrals are made into the project by project schools and Children’s Centres, with parents also self referring. We have also found that service users have encouraged their friends to seek support from the project. Parents are also actively recruited by the team members, who have been visiting estates, Waltham Forest Direct Shops, health visitors and nurseries. Referrals now come into the project from a variety of sources.

Project families receive an initial visit in their home from a Family Support Advisor and a Revenue and Benefits Officer; an educational gift is given during an initial assessment which determines whether they meet the criteria for involvement on the project. If they meet the project’s eligibility criteria, parents are then offered intensive holistic support led by the Family Support Advisor who builds a trusting and collaborative relationship with the family to determine how to meet their needs. This is based on the Family Partnership Model which the whole team has been trained in. If they accept, another meeting is arranged to carry out a more intensive assessment of the family’s needs. 

Initially we had aimed to visit 500 families and provide intensive personalised support to 100 families. However, the majority of families being visited were both eligible and keen to receive intensive personalised support from the project. Due to high demand we have agreed a new stretch target to provide intensive support to 200 families and current figures show that we are likely to meet this new target in December 2010.

The Family Partnership Model has been fundamental in developing effective relationships with the families that the project aims to support. A key premise of the model is that it requires the professional to move away from the ‘expert model’ whereby a worker knows best and tells the parent what they need to do to change things for the better. Instead the professional is there to help facilitate change and ascertain what the issues are for the individual. It requires strong partnership working and is an adjustment for both the professional and the individual being helped who has become used to professionals simply telling them what they need to do.

Every family receiving support from the model is taken through a process that explores the following stages: Exploration, understanding, goal setting, strategy planning, implementation and review. All of these form the components of an effective relationship with the individual being supported.

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

The project has been a success in Waltham Forest. At the time of writing the project had provided intensive personalised support to 192 families, just 8 families short of the 200 families stretch target with 3 months to go. Please see below for current performance against each of the project’s key outcomes:

• Increase parental employment and access to services
This target has been exceeded as 20 parents have now been helped into employment or training. As of September 2010:

10 parents into employment or training
1 into employment 
1 volunteering 
2 training via Worknet 
15 into ESOL
1 into voluntary placement via FSA. 

• Raise family income, including through the improved take up of tax credits and benefits, including local authority administered benefits
The target of 7% has been exceeded. 13.02% (25) of the project families are receiving newly awarded child tax credits or housing/council tax benefits.
6.8% of families are newly receiving council tax benefit.
1.6% of families are newly receiving child tax credits.
4.68% of families are newly receiving housing benefit.

The project aimed to ensure that 8% of the families visited were awarded free school meals. This target has not been met as only 2.1% of families have been newly awarded free school meals; the majority were already receiving this benefit.

• Build capacity of communities to tackle poverty
The target for 50 parents to be introduced to each other has been exceeded. 144 parents have been introduced to one another at a total of 12 events held by the Child Poverty Innovation Pilot (CPIP) team. The events included workshops designed to support parents in building effective relationships with their children, such as ‘Read and Play’ and ‘Who’s in Charge in Your House?’
The project also aimed to set up a Parent Advisory Group with 15 members. To date there are 13 members.

• Reduce intergenerational poverty by increasing educational attainment of vulnerable children, narrowing the attainment gap
The project aims to achieve a 10% stretch target in Early Years Foundation Stage results (NI92) for all 5 schools in the pilot area. This data will not be collated and analysed until March 2011.

The project also aims to have 50% of families reporting an increase in time spent reading with their children, based on questionnaires returned. This target has been exceeded. Of the 56 family exit questionnaires held on our database, 62.5% of parents report spending more time reading with their children. In addition to this data 21 parents have attended ‘Read and Play’ workshops held by the CPIP team, 19 of whom completed personalised read and play action plans for their children.

The externally published evaluation reports on the project have identified a number of positive outcomes for families that include:

- Improvements in emotional well-being
- Better housing
- Families accessing services in the community
- Development of relationships / social networks
- Improved family relationships
- Alleviation of financial stress

‘Since [the FSA] contacted me, my son goes to school (nursery) and he is so happy now. He was crying to begin with, but now I don’t even have to go with him… I notice a difference now, he is happy now, when, when he comes back from school he just keeps playing.’

‘This project is different to anything I knew before. It’s because it’s for the whole family. If I went to college (for advice) then it would be for me. If I went to social services then it would be for the children. For this project it’s the whole family. Not just one person in the family. And [if] it’s about something that they don’t know right there they will tell you where to find out.’

‘I know and I feel I can get on with my life now… I’ve got a place at college on a Level 2 in Childcare, I am starting in January. I feel I have come a long way. If [the FSA] had not contacted me, I would still be where I was.’

‘It has really made a difference with the kids. It has really changed us. The teachers have been talking about it actually – saying that the children are happier now. I now know what to do with them. I used to scream at them. I was only thinking about my stress and my husband and what he was going through. I had meetings with social services about my kids. But the parenting class told me to think about them and not just the stress. Social services also speak about the changes to me and my kids. I feel that I am really doing alright now.’

‘Through the project I was able to socialise more. I went to so many new places. We went to a farm and we did the fun days. I would not be doing those things without [the FSA]. I would just not know where to start.’

‘My kids are a lot better now, calmer. At weekends, before, I wouldn’t even think about stepping outside – it was just too much for me to deal with. Now the children all do karate on Saturdays and my son does football too.’

‘The project has helped me with my house – it was in a bad state, it needed repairs – the window was damaged and the heating was broken. The housing officer helped me by contacting the property owners to get the repairs done.’

The multi agency team members have all been trained in the Family Partnership Model. The ‘do no harm’ principle has led to a major culture shift for team members from benefits and housing services, who usually work in an environment where the relationship with members of the public can be stressful and based on the word ‘no’. The project has given team members an opportunity to truly work in partnership with families which both the worker and the family appreciate.

Additionally the very strong involvement of service heads from both housing and benefits for example has enabled the project to intervene very quickly in very serious matters on behalf of families, such as impending evictions, and prevent them from taking place through negotiation over the phone or via email. 

Broader service based changes are dependent on council funding and a restructure currently taking place. However, in terms of the project specifically, following research into how Children’s Centres can help to reduce child poverty in Waltham Forest, we have developed a draft action plan which it is hoped that all Children’s Centres in the borough will work towards implementing.

Current plans are to develop an Early Intervention and Prevention Service which replicates the project team structure which will mean that multi agency teams will be working in the north, centre and south of the borough supporting families.

Sustaining and replicating your practice

We were unable to recruit to the Health Visitor post due to a number of reasons. The key named person from the PCT who was responsible for recruitment to the post went on long term sick leave and it took a long time to establish who would then take responsibility for this task. This was compounded by the national shortage of Health Visitors which was also very evident in Waltham Forest as a borough. When recruitment finally started we were unable to identify anyone who was prepared to take a role in a project which had almost completed a year of its two year funding. 

We explored getting an agency worker, but this proved to be unsuccessful. We also made contact with colleagues in Tower Hamlets who employ Health Trainers. However, the role is geared towards adults, not children and young people, which would still have left us with a gap in service provision. We then looked at whether the Council’s own Health Improvement Team could support our families, but this team was cut as part of savings cuts!

To address the health gap in the project the project team ensured that we worked very closely with Children’s Centres which enabled us to make referrals to professionals such as speech and language therapists.

Additionally, through the project’s governance arrangements we discussed this issue with head teachers and Children’s Centre Co-ordinators and felt that the mental health issues of children in school who don’t meet CAMHS thresholds could be addressed through the Targeted Mental Health in Schools (TaMHS) programme. So we are hoping that colleagues from the Integrated Education Support Service will deliver this training in all of the project schools, to enable support staff to effectively support children at risk of negative outcomes. The programme covers mental health awareness; attachment and anxiety; bereavement, loss and grief and listening to children.


The project is part of a national evaluation for all child poverty pilots as mentioned above, carried out by GHK. Waltham Forest decided also to carry out local monitoring and evaluation which runs alongside and informs the national evaluation.

Two national evaluation reports have been produced by DfE and DCSF (as was); they are available to view here:

Waltham Forest is mentioned in detail on the following pages:

DCSF report 
53-55 – budget, context, activities, outcomes
65-66 – education and learning priorities
88 – delivery to date
130-132 - context

DfE report
24 – context, activities, monitoring units
42 – mentioned, and how benefit checks have raised family income
47 – parents explain how casework support builds confidence
61– fieldwork participants
69 – summary table 

As a result of this local monitoring and a cost effectiveness analysis, we know that on average each family received holistic support that took place over a 4 month period, which cost the project £3000 per family.

What ‘hot tips’ do you have from your experience for others?

The Family Partnership Model is key to working effectively with families. It has had a huge impact on the success of the project as all trained in and using the model recognise that change must come from the individual and the team exists to facilitate that happening.

Multi agency working is definitely the way forward! It enables you to take a holistic view of a family and their needs and in terms of addressing child poverty issues recognises that poverty is multi faceted. Through the project, very good working relationships have been developed between children’s services, benefits and housing which has enabled life changing decisions to be made for families, taking into account the other often very significant factors.

Be very clear about your outcomes and how you’re going to evidence and monitor your progress. We spent a considerable amount of time at the start of the project establishing how we would know as a borough if what we were doing was having a positive impact on the community. This sort of data or evidence is crucial particularly if your project isn’t part of a wider national evaluation process. 

Our focus on outcomes enabled us to see very quickly where we were struggling. It also meant that we could implement stretch targets when it was clear that we were doing very well in certain areas, which has given the team additional focus and challenge for their work.

This project has shown us in Waltham Forest that multi agency working is definitely a great way to provide holistic support to families. But there can be challenges when you bring together individuals from very distinct work environments with their own very established cultures. In a time when resources are scarce, focus your funds on skilling up a workforce to enable them to carry out the role effectively. Family Partnership Model training which the whole project team completed had the effect of giving each member a clearly understood and explicit way of working with families irrespective of whether they were a housing officer or a family support advisor. This way of working has been fully embraced by every member of the team and has been instrumental in the project’s success.

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