The Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP) had a great time celebrating Fathers’ Day at Larkhall 1 o’ Clock Club and the Liz Atkinson Children’s Centre with special events for dads, male carers, and their families. The sun peeked out briefly to shine on the many activities on offer, from face painting to cake decorating and even some kite-making.
Jennifer Robson, Programme Manager for LEAP, spoke to Mark James, outreach worker at Larkhall, about why events like this are so important.
“Dads and male carers are part of families – whether parents are together or not – but they often need encouragement to take part in children’s services”, Mark explains. “This might be for various reasons such as dads working in the week, or not feeling comfortable coming along to services mainly attended by women.”
Mark also noted that there tends to be fewer men working in children’s centres, but seeing other male faces really helps dads feel comfortable. One of the dads we spoke to said he often felt activities weren’t for him, until he attended and felt welcomed by staff and other parents.
So how do we help make dads feel more comfortable? Mark said his approach has always been to think about dads from the start: “When mum comes into the centre for the first time, we always ask about Dad, and we register the whole family. We want everyone to know from the start how important their role is.”
The Partnership spoke to several dads who reiterated how important it was to think about more ways to involve fathers. One dad said: “When my partner was pregnant, I went to all the appointments and really wanted to be involved, but nobody asked me how I was feeling. After our baby was born, we both suffered separately with post-natal depression. My partner had support but I felt overwhelmed and alone and had to get through it myself.”
Another dad told us that when his first child was born, he felt very isolated and unprepared. “Hearing about Family Foundations, which LEAP is offering to first-time parents, I thought if I’d had this I would have felt more ready to be a dad.”
The Partnership will be working with some of these dads, and other male carers across the four wards, to design services for the whole family. This will help us understand the particular experience of dads and ensure they are involved, and if they need it, offered support.
Mark says it’s crucial that when organising services and activities, we think specifically about dads – everything from what time they can come along to how to keep the networks dads have built going. It’s also important to ensure there’s ongoing contact after the service has finished.
Another worker at the Larkhall event told us: “There’s a tendency when we see dads at events like this to say “aren’t they engaging well with their children’. These dads aren’t engaging, they’re just being dads, and we need to see it the same way.”
Mark sees LEAP as a fantastic opportunity to promote and celebrate the important role of dads and other male carers in children’s lives, and encourage them to take part in the services on offer.
Thanks to Larkhall and Liz Atkinson for such fantastic Fathers’ Day events, and to all the marvellous dads and male carers who spoke to us. We can’t wait to work more closely with you in future!
LEAP is supported from the Big Lottery Funds A Better Start Programme with the aim to improve outcomes for children in three key areas of development: social and emotional development, communication and language development, and diet and nutrition.
Today, as part of Father’s Day we take a look at how the ‘A Better Start’ programme is supporting dads in Blackpool.
Local dads have joined up with A Better Start, Blackpool Council’s Libraries Service and the Blackpool Illumination’s Lightworks Team to improve the reading spaces for children aged 0 – 3 in local libraries. FRED, otherwise known as the Fathers Read Every Day programme, kicks off in September, with designers helping out to ensure the contributions of dads are reflected in the furniture and art work installed in five local libraries across Blackpool.
Some of the new pieces of art include giant tree bookcases and a raised reading tower. On Friday, Lightworks hosted a ‘Build It Day’ with dads and designers teaming up to build all of the pieces. To coincide with the launch of FRED in the libraries, dads are being supported to increase the time they spend reading with their children thanks to story telling sessions by the library service.
Scott Moseley, a local dad involved with FRED, said
I’ve been involved with the project from the first library we worked together on. This project has got me excited and I’m looking forward to getting more involved. We meet regularly and there are always some new volunteers who want to come along and join us.
I know that it’s going to make a real difference to families who use each of these libraries, and encourage more families to read to their children. I feel proud of being part of it too and look forward to inviting my friends and family to see what I’ve achieved.
In 2015, we commissioned Parents 1st to carry out an evidence review of volunteer models and early childhood outcomes to support our strategic investment A Better Start. A Better Start is a 10 year ‘test and learn’ investment totaling £215 million across five local area partnerships within Bradford, Blackpool, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend on Sea.
These geographical areas have a high level of need in terms of deprivation, educational achievement and child health. A Better Start will facilitate a system change locally, which means: a shift in culture and spending across children and families agencies towards prevention; that local health and other public services,
VCSE and the wider community work together to co-produce and deliver less bureaucratic, more joined up services for all families living in the area; and that these services work with the whole family effectively to improve outcomes for children focusing on pregnancy and the first three years of life.
These new pathways of care aim to make better use of local resources and set out to improve outcomes for children in three key development areas of:
- Social and emotional
development: preventing harm before it happens (including abuse and/or safeguarding, neglect, perinatal mental health and domestic violence) as well as those that promote good attunement and attachment
- Speech and language development: developing skills in parents to talk, read and sing to, and particularly to praise their babies and toddlers and to ensure local childcare services emphasise language development
- Nutrition: starting out by encouraging breast-feeding and promoting good nutritional practices.
The five A Better Start partnerships have put local people in the lead and built on the strengths within their communities in a number of ways including supporting local services through volunteering, peer support and ‘community champions’ working alongside a professional workforce. To support the five partnerships to plan and implement these, the evidence review explores ‘what works, when, for whom and in what circumstances’ in contributing to the three child development outcomes with a particular focus on:
- Availability of suitable models and programmes
- Expectations regarding outcomes for children
- System requirements
- Governance and safeguarding
- Collaboration with the professional workforce and statutory services.
The Big Lottery Fund recognised that one size doesn’t fit all and the evidence review has not sought to arrive at a set of recommendations, rather a framework for developing a range of approaches to volunteering in different contexts which is applicable in a number of different environments.
Key Findings from the Parents 1st Evidence Review
Volunteer projects can:
- Contribute to A Better Start outcomes in ways that are distinct from, but complementary to, professional support.
- Build relationships of trust and equality with parents; reach and be accepted by parents who do not engage with other services; and help to create the conditions that can lead to change.
No two volunteer projects will be the same, because it is essential to adapt the volunteer support to the local context, to its communities and parents. Nonetheless, we can identify some principles and features of volunteer projects that have successfully contributed to the child development outcomes of interest to the A Better Start partnerships and to others working in, or with an interest in, this field.
- Strengths-based: with an emphasis on empowering parents to gain the information, confidence and skills they need to find solutions and become the best parents they can be.
- Relationship-based: developing trust between everyone that is involved − parents, volunteers, coordinators and local professionals.
- Reciprocal: ensuring that everyone affected by the project feels their voice is heard and that they contribute to and benefit from being a part of the project.
- Evidence-based but adaptive: rooted in evidence of what works, based on a theory of change and constantly reflecting, and prepared to innovate and adapt to local context.
- Collaborative: aware of the distinctive roles of professional and volunteer support and working cooperatively with local professionals.
- Clear about parameters: the aims and the boundaries of the volunteer projects are clearly articulated and understood by parents, professionals and commissioners.
- The key role of the project coordinator, understood as the lynchpin of a successful volunteer project. Skilled coordinators can:
- Attract, engage, train, support, supervise and retain volunteers.
- Facilitate processes that enable volunteers to engage with vulnerable parents.
- Build relationships with and between professionals and other voluntary sector projects.
- Fully costed to provide a proper operational base: staff to coordinate, train and supervise; marketing resources; volunteer expenses such as travel or phone; and data systems.
- Strong organisational leadership with a core purpose of nurturing grass-roots community involvement.
- Realistic timescales which account for long lead-in time, while a robust implementation design process is carried out with stakeholders, relationships are built with the local community and public sector professionals, and volunteers are recruited and trained. Initial funding should last for at least three years to allow for meaningful evaluation of impact.
- ‘Just enough’ data collection. Tracking impact is important, but data collection can be intrusive and burdensome for volunteers and parents. Consider what impacts can be meaningfully measured and how this data can be collected with as light a touch as possible.
- Leadership models the principles of the projects: Leaders in commissioning and provider organisations must model the strengths-based, relational and collaborative working required for successful volunteer projects.
To find out more about designing and delivering volunteer models please read the full report and framework.
In our final Women and Girls blog, we hear from Jo Davies, manager of WILD Young Parents Group, a Cornwall-based specialist service for young mums under 23 whose children are at risk or going through safeguarding interventions and/or care proceedings.
WILD aims to provide early intervention to help women develop their parenting skills, and in time be strong enough to help other women in similar situations. Last month they received just under £300,000 from our Women and Girls initiative to provide access to psychological help, support accessing housing and money, parenting skills, health advice and also help to develop their skills and ambition. As the quotes below show, for many women it is truly a life-changing service.
“At WILD Young Parents project, we aim to provide young mums and their children with opportunities to develop skills, improve self-esteem, make positive healthy choices, protect themselves, participate in their communities and achieve their potential. WILD has worked with young parents and their children, who face severe and multiple disadvantage, since 1992.
We will now be able to help young mums and their children who are experiencing safeguarding or care interventions with regard to their children. Research shows that many young mums experience complex barriers to parenting their children, including poverty, domestic abuse, mental ill-health, and childhood trauma. Some of them struggle to create a healthy, safe home, and need support to do this.
Two full-time workers will help young mums make positive changes to their lives including support with healthy living, parenting, mental health, confidence and relationships. There will also be opportunities for young mums to get involved in creative projects and have their voices heard.
We want to improve the lives of young mums, and for them to gain strength from each other as young women. The grant from Big Lottery Fund is great news for some of Cornwall’s youngest and most vulnerable families. Young mums will be at the heart of this new service, and we will also be working closely with Cornwall Council services to ensure our WILD families get all the help they can to make a positive future for themselves and their children.”
If you’d like to find out more about WILD, you can visit their website.
The Venus Centre is one of 63 projects that has recently received funding through our Women and Girls initiative. Based in Sefton, they will be working with women who have lost their children to public care or adoption to empower them to manage their own lives.
In the latest of our Women and Girls blogs, Sally, 35, who has been involved with Venus since she was 16 tells, us how she’s now more in control of her life and her children’s. She has experienced a lot of trauma in her life including sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, substance misuse, poverty, poor housing and mental health problems. Sally has five children in care.
“I feel more confident. I had help from Venus to learn to deal with stress. I was taking tablets, drinking, my husband was violent and I had no family support at all. I had been sexually abused by my dad when I was young, my family wouldn’t speak to me and social services were involved because I was struggling to cope with looking after my children. I would shout and rant and rave at social services because I was scared of them and didn’t know how to cope with it.
I thought because my mum experienced and dealt with domestic violence that I had to too. I thought I just had to put up with all the terrible things in my life because that’s all I deserved.
Venus helped me to get my point across to social services, and understand what was being said to me. Even with that support it has taken me 16 years to learn how to deal with everything that has happened to me and understand the effect it had on me, my relationships and my children. Having someone I trusted to help me deal with social services, court proceedings, my poor mental health, drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, abuse in the past and everything else has made the difference for me.
Venus helped me see a psychologist. They helped me to be positive and happy, I can speak to people about what has happened to me and I am happy to share my story if it helps others to get through the same kind of situation. When you’re in that kind of situation, you don’t know who you can trust, so you don’t talk because you think everyone or anyone will snitch on you and get you into more trouble.
What I have learned, with support from Venus, is that it’s best to talk about it with someone you can trust. I learned to trust Venus because all the staff are welcoming, happy, friendly and they tell me straight if I’m making a mistake, even when I don’t like what they’re saying. I haven’t got family to tell me or give me advice, Venus is the only family I know.
If I was to advise someone in the same situation as me, I would say to look at themselves, look at the situation they’re in and think about their children and the effect all those issues have on them. I’d also tell them to listen to social services, don’t rant and rave like I did. Work with them to make your children’s lives better and stop them going into care. Just because you’re scared, doesn’t mean you can hide from it and it won’t happen; you can do something before it gets too late.
Venus helped me improve my parenting. I used to let my kids get away with so much, my eldest used to be the parent and I was the child. Venus helped me learn about good parenting and become a better parent. I used to think I could solve my problems with violence and Venus helped me look at that behaviour and realise it’s not fair on my children. I had a bad attitude.
Venus listens, accepts you and helps you without judging you or the situation you’re in. With Venus’ help I realised I wasn’t born to be bashed, to be kicked, I wasn’t born to be a slave. I deserve a good life, nice things and a nice family – Venus helped me see that.”
Through her own determination to make better choices and address the barriers she faces, along with tailored support from Venus, Sally has developed better parenting skills, improved her mental health and wellbeing, developed healthy coping strategies, stopped substance misuse, escaped domestic violence and learned to recognise and build better relationships. Since her 5 children went into care, Sally has had a further 2 children who both live with her. She has made positive changes and worked with social services to ensure that her children are happy, healthy and well looked after at home with their mum.
As part of Volunteers’ Week, we are celebrating all of the amazing volunteers that support our funded projects.
Despite only being 22, student Tamanna Miah has already been an active volunteer for 11 years, supporting a range of services in youth and community organisations. Here she tells us about her work with charity Rethink, and their Big Lottery funded programme Step Up: Transitions, that supports young people living with mental illness
“I like volunteering on Step Up: transitions for several reasons. Firstly because it’s a mental health project that uses the knowledge, skills and lived experience of young people like myself to create training for other young people (16-25 years) to help them deal with the impact of change on their mental health through one off and 6-session training. There’s not enough of this peer to peer aspect for young people in mental health and that’s a shame because when I deliver our training in schools, community centres and other places it’s this ‘young people to young people’ approach that means we can connect very quickly, in a more powerful, empathetic way. You can see a real difference from the start when everyone’s not sure what to expect and wondering if they should have come and then in an hour or so everyone is so engaged and wanting to get more involved . It’s great to feel I am a part of that.”
“I also really like being involved in Step Up: transitions because it’s a co-production project so I can really get hands-on experience in the whole process and drive it based on the issues I see all around me. I’ve been heavily involved in the planning, designing promotional materials, sitting on panels and of course delivering the training to young people across Islington, Lambeth and Hammersmith and Fulham so I feel like I really have ownership over this project and what we do with it. It’s also a very creative process, we often use drama or dance to connect with young people which I enjoy and I’m also coproducing the evaluation materials with the Tavistock Institute so that’s another set of skills I get to put into practice.”
“The final reason I enjoy volunteering on Step Up: Transitions is that it lets me integrate a lot the underlying causes of mental health that I am passionate about into our trainings such as bullying and racism, mental health support in BAME communities, the importance of early intervention and the impact of big changes such as starting university on your mental health.”
“The potential of co-production is that is becomes like a domino effect: if I can help one person then in turn they can help another and in the end we can create a culture shift. That’s what I’ve been spending these 11 years advocating for.”
Rethink helps people affected by mental illness by challenging attitudes, changing lives you can learn more by visiting their website (to be placed in as a link https://www.rethink.org)
In the latest of our series of blogs from people at projects recently funded through the women and girls initiative, Autumn Valentine tells us how The Girls’ Network supported her through her GCSE’s and beyond by matching her with a mentor when she was in Year 11.
My name is Autumn Valentine, this time last year I was finishing Year 11 and awaiting to enrol at Havant Sixth Form college to study English Language and Literature, Psychology and Religious Studies. At the beginning of Year 11 I was lucky enough to be selected to take part in a scheme called The Girls’ Network.
The scheme involved each of us girls (mentees) to firstly attend a matching event where we speed networked with a selection of five inspirational women. The Girls’ Network had already interviewed us girls a few weeks before whilst the mentors were going through training and made ideal matches. At the training event I remember talking to a women called Claire and thinking how amazing she was. Our conversation flowed with no pauses or loose ends.
Over the past year me and Claire have met once every month for an hour. We were given tasks to complete such as practising our interview skills, positive failure and exam revision techniques. Most of the time, Claire and I would be so wrapped up in conversation that our time would over-run. Claire’s approach was the perfect balance; she helped me with my maths revision, looked through college prospectus and helped me decide on courses. She taught me about university, whilst always taking the time to ask me about my social life.
At the beginning of year 11, I wasn’t as focused or revising as much as I should have been. In fact, I was very much more interested in hanging out with my friends and having a laugh. My attitude was to live in the moment and worry later. A few mentors and staff at The Girls’ Network remember me saying at the start: “I don’t really care, I just care about my friends.” This seems so strange to me now because there’s so many things and people I care about; I care about becoming a better person and making my mum and others proud.
Over the past year, I have gone from someone with a casual attitude, to giving a speech about myself and the effect The Girls Network has had on me. My Head teacher actually mentioned me by name as a shining example of someone who’s ‘turned it around’! This makes me so happy and proud of myself. At the end of the day, this change comes down to: having someone believe in you, support you and say “actually you can do this.” This is exactly what you get from The Girls Network, a real sense of community, commitment and belief, which every young girl around the country and world should be entitled to.
The Girls Network is such a great scheme to get involved in. For me, it has helped me to develop my strengths and focus my attention. As a teenage girl it is so hard to not get distracted by boys, parties and social life; it’s so vital we don’t get distracted at this crucial time of our lives when we are transitioning out of school. The Girls’ Network helped me see that these years are the building blocks of our success and achievements, and are what determine our future. It is so easy to ignore what your teachers and parents are saying because you think it’s just them nagging. Instead, it’s so beneficial to have someone like Claire who has been through it all, who isn’t your parent or teacher and who can give good advice.
It has been almost one year since I graduated from the programme, but I know I will still be a part of The Girls’ Network. Through the Ambassador Network, I know I can call on The Girls Network to help me with all manner of things, such as university applications, CVs or anything else you may need assistance with. I am so thankful and grateful to have been involved in such a life changing project that along with my wonderful teachers and amazing family have helped me to become who I am today.
If you’d like to know more about The Girls’ Network, visit their website.
Today we hear from Kathy Coe, CEO of Pathway Project, about the personal experience of domestic abuse that lead her to set up a charity that now supports over 2000 people a year to enjoy a life free from fear.
It was 11pm, my children were sitting upstairs on their beds with their night clothes in carrier bags. They knew we may need to leave very quickly. I wanted to give my husband an opportunity to finally do the right thing and leave the house so we could have somewhere to live. After seven years of abuse and violence we were scared, we were exhausted and we were about to find ourselves suddenly homeless.
The request to leave was met with scorn and more abuse. Our only option was to fight our way out of the front door and we managed to get into the car and lock it before he reached us. Friends gave us somewhere to stay whilst we got everything sorted out practically, but emotionally it took a lot longer. However, out of all that pain and anxiety came a new start. Not just for us, but for thousands of other families that Pathway has supported through their time of crisis.
Facing a life threatening and life changing experience is a great motivator and gave me a passion and drive to do something that would make a difference to others. I thought I was going to set up a small refuge and that I would dedicate myself to doing that. It took seven years to set up that first refuge but it wasn’t going to stop there.
Today I am the CEO of a charity that supports over 2000 people a year. We offer a range of holistic services that would have seemed unimaginable when I needed help. Our support ranges from refuge and helpline to counselling and group training, and from children’s and outreach services to drop in and legal clinics.
I am so very proud of this charity and most of all, the wonderful team we have here. Pathway saves lives. Our team is totally committed to working with domestic and sexual abuse victims. We work with the immediate crisis, but we also make a long-term difference by helping people to find hope, and a future. We turn victims into survivors.
Sadly the need for our services has continued and grown but our focus is always on people not numbers. It is stunning to see how many women we have supported, but even more profound is to know the names, and the situations those women and their children have had to face. Behind every number is a real person who has faced the most devastating fear, and loss, but who has found the strength to keep going and to find a new way through life, and that has been a constant inspiration to all of us.
It is almost 25 years since we registered as a Charity and we have been there day and night for people who need help. With the support of our Big Lottery Fund grant we look forward to reaching our 30th anniversary and being there for many more women and girls.