C4EO Briefing paper: Community Capacity Building – Engaging Parents and Volunteers with Sure Start Children’s Centres


This briefing paper has been updated to incorporate practice submitted from a C4EO call for practice in 2015. Written originally with children’s centres in mind, the briefing has wider relevance to local authorities, VCS and partner organisations working to improve outcomes for babies and young children.

The introduction to this briefing sets the context for ways in which community capacity has been built through engaging parents and volunteers with Sure Start children’s centres by reference to the underpinning statutory guidance for local authorities, commissioners of local health services and Jobcentre Plus as well as for self-evaluation. The keys to success are explored by reference to C4EO’s Grasping the Nettle’s identification of five golden threads underpinned by the use of peer support i.e. volunteers from the community who are trained to work alongside professionals. Similarly, the work of the WAVE Trust identified six key messages with galvanizing the community being the secret of success.

Best practice identified by the National College for Teaching and Leadership is cited with volunteer programmes recognised as one of the foundations of effective outreach in engaging parents. Examples of best practice identified by Ofsted are included through an innovative approach using volunteers in child protection in Coventry (this is also recognised by C4EO in Southend-on-Sea), an example from East Hasting Children’s Centre which has developed an extensive network of volunteers as well as a dynamic parents’ forum in Forest First Children’s Centre in Hampshire.

C4EO assesses and validates local practice in order to provide evidence of ‘what works’ and what ‘makes a difference’ to inspire best practice. The examples given demonstrate how parents supporting parents transformed early years outcomes, embedding sustained change within the community. Volunteer befriending provided the basis for NCT’s Birth and Beyond Community Support Programme developed to deliver community-based peer support. The National Literacy Trust built on their Literacy Champions volunteer based programme to develop Early Words Together to promote young children’s communication, language and literacy and enable family engagement through the support of peer volunteers. A Parent Champion Model, along with adaptations is described to show the way the intervention works and the impact on parents/families and children as well as the Parent Champion volunteers’ journey and development.

Full C4EO Briefing Paper available here

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