Knowledge Base

At the Family Hubs Network, we aim to be a place where you can ask questions and find answers. We are adding to this resource all the time so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your questions and answers. Email sharing experiences, learning, ideas and solutions and providing a forum for knowledge exchange are all fundamental to our purpose. 


We have heard from many already established Hubs that they quickly became a focal point for co-ordinating support to families and the ‘go to’ place for food distribution, maternity appointments etc. This enabled those working in Family Hubs to continue to identify risk signs and offer more support where it was needed and helped services’ early intervention and prevention efforts. This was particularly important given the fact that many universal services, e.g. schools, were closed at this time.

It is also important to point out that many areas took their first steps towards the Family Hub model in response to the crisis. This was often driven by the local council working with local partners.

Many Hubs were also very nimble in shifting what they offered in-person, from the building, to face-to-face online – not just information, advice and guidance but also providing courses, counselling etc.

In Essex, because the pre-birth to 19 service is fully integrated, all children, young people and their mothers are registered to the service and have a single health record (SystmOne in this case). At every contract point the Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service records any identified vulnerability characteristics – known as ‘Priority Groups’.

Examples include: lone parent households, both parents unemployed, parents with drug and alcohol problems, incidents of domestic violence etc. Throughout this pandemic, the service is able to run reports to identify families most ‘at risk’ and offer help. Additionally, parenting support groups that were traditionally offered face-to-face in sites were offered virtually via Cisco Webex and the categories of Priority Groups enabled the service to target those families who would benefit most from these groups.

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

To date we have seen steady referrals for Targeted early help support in line with figures from last year. However, we have seen a drop of 26% in referrals for intensive family support as many of our referrers and early help assessment completers are schools who have not been operational. We expect a surge of referrals once schools return in September. (Answer given by Simon Dear and Rachel Mckernan, representing the Isle of Wight)  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Rachel McKernan, Isle of Wight: We have kept all the hubs and most spokes open to deliver essential services including midwife and health visitor clinics. In addition, we have moved our delivery to a blended offer.  

We have delivered the following as virtual sessions: Evidenced-based parenting programmes, language builders sessions, Five to Thrive New baby course, Baby play sessions, breastfeeding workshops, Sparkle (SEN) support groups.  

We have delivered 169 online sessions to 195 families (some courses have several sessions). In addition, we have responded to 267 requests for support with information, advice and guidance on a range of issues. Our Family Support team have continued to support 188 families and our targeted early help team have supported 139 families. (Answer given by Rachel Mckernan, representing the Isle of Wight)  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)


How have local authorities which have implemented the Family Hub model achieved shared budgets to ensure that the family hub is underpinned by a strategically agreed funding stream, as this is key to integrated service delivery?

Adrian Coggins from Essex commented on this, at the ‘Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar’, saying the starting point should be commissioning for outcomes then deciding who is best placed to deliver these. If this were done it could change the landscape for charities who, we have heard, often receive referrals because they have the reputation for best delivery of a service, but money does not come with those referrals.  

Adrian added after the event that ‘whilst there are a lot of stakeholders who want to improve things, shared outcomes really need to be a strategic commissioning driven approach. There is plenty of work out there for everyone and a really diverse offer needs to be considered especially if we want to maximise the potential of a broader determinants of health approach, but someone needs to hold the ring on a co-ordinated offer and make sure that as many of the domains as possible, in a broad determinants of health approach, are covered.’    

Richard Comerford from Essex said he would urge local authorities to merge their workstreams/programmes for children and families and aim to have one commissioned service. Unfortunately, many local authorities, who assumed responsibility for public health provision in 2013/14 still commission these services independent of another e.g. the Healthy Child Programme.  

Essex County Council, for example, have commissioned an integrated service and have mandated their commissioned provider – Virgin Care – to deliver these services from 38 stipulated Family Hub sites across the council. Interestingly, in West Essex, where the CCG included the children’s community health provision within the pre-birth-to-19 contract, a large proportion of this provision has naturally moved into the hub where it is better placed to provide expert early help and intervention.  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Adrian Coggins from Essex described how, ‘as a strategic commissioner, rather than operational manager, I’m not aware of any specific cases where this has been an issue specifically for our Essex Family Hubs.’ 

Richard Comerford picked this up: ‘Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service is co-commissioned by Essex County Council and NHS West Essex CCG. During the Early Years Review conducted in 2015/16, ahead of the contract procurement process, families fed-back to the Council that they did not want to continually tell their story and be asked for information about them.  

Virgin Care, in partnership with Barnardo’s are the primary providers of this contract. Virgin Care has a robust information sharing agreement in place with Barnardo’s that enables all staff working within the service to access the clinical information system (SystmOne) as appropriate. In short, every child and young person has one single electronic record that can be accessed by anyone involved in their care and support. This has proven both highly efficient and safe, particularly in relation to relevant information sharing and Safeguarding.’ 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

How can we achieve cross organisation buy-in, especially when identifying and developing community estates to make them suitable to co-locate teams (IT infrastructure, ownership roles & responsibilities or organisations using the building etc.)?

Adrian Coggins said ‘the work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on determinants of wellbeing, and the Marmot reviews on health inequalities make a convincing case that if we don’t work together across a range of domains, and don’t recognise the complex interdependencies between work across these domains, we have no reason to expect that the widening health gap, and issues such as child poverty will improve. This is a radically different way of working for many in public health and early years, and Family Hubs are an ideal catalyst to trial small scale targeted place-based approaches. Of course they’re part of a wider local economy, but they’re a great place to start!  

Richard Comerford added ‘If your area needs any convincing of the benefits of co-commissioned services delivered from Family Hubs please ask them to visit West Essex and speak to local service users!’ 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Have you considered having a section 75 between health and LA as this would improve further true integrated working?

This question refers to s75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 re Requirements as to procurement, patient choice and competition.   

Adrian Coggins pointed out again that section 75 is purely a mechanism – a form of legal agreement – what really matters is the cultural integration. Historically one of the problems with section 75s is that they get drafted by solicitors who are (understandably) risk averse/protective of their individual organisation, and limits potential by reducing as many unknown factors as possible. This can drive a guarded approach which doesn’t generate the shared appetite for exploration and shared risk which is so important. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

How have hubs collaborated with wider partners such as CCG’s and public health services, both for adult and children joining services to achieve a family approach?

Adrian Coggins admitted ‘there is lots still to do but it starts with commitment to shared outcomes, followed by development of genuinely culturally-integrated family teams. Sometimes this is easier to achieve at operational level with front line practitioners who ‘get’ the need for a multidisciplinary approach, than it is at strategic organisational level with entrenched organisational cultures! Partner organisations listening collectively to family experiences of lack of join up, combined with frontline practitioner feedback on how their intervention needs to be part of a wider support offer, goes a long way.’ 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Would local authorities, who use Family Hub model, propose to move from co-facilitation to integration with health services such as health visiting who also act as lead professionals for families?

In Essex health visiting services are already integrated as part of the multidisciplinary team. We’ve tried to commission a service which identified a lead professional who takes the role of lead-based as much (or more!) on their relational capability with the family, as their professional standing. From a commissioning perspective we’ve asked all professionals to reflect on their professional identity and how it helps them, and others as part of a team, achieve the outcomes we want for families.  

The provider – Virgin Care in partnership with Barnardo’s – has created multidisciplinary Healthy Family Teams that serve a set geographical area, inclusive of nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools and aligned to local health provision, primarily GP practices. Healthy Family Teams are made up of Health Visitors, Healthy Family Support Workers, School Nurses, Volunteers, Community Engagement Workers, Healthy Schools Engagement Workers etc. They aim to support communities to support each other and provide professional help where it is needed, especially those needing early help and those with complex needs due to vulnerability and risk.  

On the Isle of Wight, currently Early Help and Public Health Nursing (PHN) services are commissioned separately with a contractual requirement to work in partnership with the wider early help offer. Collaborative working ensures no duplication of service delivery and colocation of PHN services in Family Hubs/spokes ensures families can access what they need from the local site. The PHN contract has just been re-tendered, and the Early Help contract is currently live. Both contracts have the same shared outcome framework and have been aligned to ensure that the synergy between both providers adds additional integration and collegiate working. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Do local authorities who have implemented the Family Hub model, who have integrated with other services that might support vulnerable families – e.g. where there’s parental alcohol or drug problems – see reduced attrition between systems?

The Isle of Wight has a well-established Early Help landscape which launched in 2008. All services who support vulnerable families participate in the Team Around the Family in response to identified need. The Intensive Family Support Service delivered from the Family Hubs often identify drug and alcohol issues within families they support, and will refer on for support from specialist services. However, parents are not always ready for an onward referral so the Family Support Worker will support families to become ready for positive engagement. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Richard Comerford, Essex: ‘It would be good practice for Family Hubs to be connected to their local Primary Care Network and vice versa. The Children’s Act requires each Family Hub to facilitate an independently chaired Advisory Board and these forums can aid multiagency working, including with Primary Care.’  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Yes. The Family Hub model is about integration and joining up all the support available in a community to reflect the complex reality of people’s lives, this would be a natural, further evolution of the current ‘family centre’ type Family Hub. Some centres already aspire to ‘be there’ for people aged 0-90, not just for parents with children aged 0-19 and some badge themselves as ‘community hubs’. Where this happens it’s important to maintain an emphasis on family and relational support (and to broaden that e.g. to help grandparents whose access to grandchildren has been hampered by acrimonious divorce or separation proceedings).  

Richard Comerford cautions that ‘There are risks with asking too much from Family Hubs and some teams already have challenges with the addition of youth services. Each site really should be assessed on a case by case basis for its ability to house multi-occupancy providers and service users effectively and cohesively. The biggest danger is for the most vulnerable people to be, or feel, excluded. 

The scope of a Family Hub should be data-driven and focused on the particular prevalent challenges of a particular area.  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

We have seen Hubs where there is versatile space which works as children’s play in the day and a youth venue in the evening. Parents of teenagers have valued having somewhere to go, separate from school, to share concerns, especially about: drugs, serious youth violence and gang involvement. Where possible, interventions around these risk areas could be accessed through even if not in Hubs as they are ideally linked with other youth provision in the area. The Home Office has recommended to us that in areas which have Violence Reduction Units (VRUs), VRUs and Family Hubs should forge strong links to help address the relational and social contexts in which violence can occur and then spread. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)


Is it easier to implement the Family Hub model in areas that have existing and functioning ‘centres’ (adapting existing services) or in areas that have shut their historic ‘centres’ (where we could start afresh)? For example, Oxfordshire shut 36 of 44 centres in 2016.

There will be a lot of other variables that would feed into how those two different scenarios would play out. It’s about siting the Family Hub in a place where there would be a supportive culture for the concept and delivery.  

Richard Comerford comments: ‘There is often a good reason why centres/Family Hubs are located where they are. They are normally located in areas that have high need and are accessible. That said, populations change over time and demand for services can change. Commissioners should consult with the public and stakeholders about where they are best placed and consideration must be given to access, demand and running costs. In Essex, they have chosen to have one ‘mothership’ Family Hub in each of its 12 districts and a further 26 smaller satellite outreach Delivery Sites.  

The service provider, Virgin Care coordinates activities in and from the Family Hubs and ensure appropriate provision is delivered in the satellite Delivery Sites and any other additional site identified in isolated communities e.g. library, church hall, village hall. Essex County Council has ‘mandated’ Virgin Care to deliver services from the 38 sites and each site has a stipulated number of hours per week it must be open to the public.’ 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

NACCC works with a network of 350 child contact centres, meaning that there is a network throughout England and Wales that are well placed to support the development of Family Hubs. Contact centres have lots of venues but lead a hand to mouth existence and would struggle to spare a resource for organising and maintaining the family hub. How might funding be accessed to enable contact centres to be part of the Family Hub model? 

If the local authority/VCS partnered Hub is sited in the contact centre the costs ideally would be borne by the LA and others who are ‘renting’ the space to deliver their services. I am sure this is something that would have to be worked out through negotiation in different settings. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Regarding the importance of taking a proactive approach to engaging with young parents through the ‘Early Years health & parenting support’ focus, what has the incentive been for parents to register births at their local Family Hub to date? Is this a shared initiative across Family Hubs and if not, what else can be done to proactively engage with families in the absence of problems?

There has been much parliamentary interest in children’s centres, rather than registry offices, becoming the default sites for birth registration, as they are more accessible to new parents and are a more ‘relevant’ venue. All these arguments apply to Family Hubs too. A warm welcome when registering and a bit of information about the other help available can mean new parents don’t assume they are on their own.  

Re. incentives – I think it’s about advertising/informing through health services when new parents are told about the need to register the birth, and Hubs being proactive about informing people in the community about the convenience of community registration. Hubs can learn from how each other do it but so far there is not a shared initiative. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

When transforming Sure Start children’s centres to Family Hubs, have local authorities engaged in public consultation and how did they mitigate the risk of clawback?

Essex say they ‘undertook public consultation, with relation to if any children’s centres should close or should they all be uncritically repurposed as Family Hubs, we reviewed footfall and outcomes  for all the children’s centres, and as a commissioner of services/support, not buildings, and a “service without walls” we reviewed what buildings we thought were and were not needed in pursuit of outcomes.’   

It’s important that each family hub centre demonstrates and earns its unique co-ordinating role in a locality, so it really is the hub of the co-ordinated local offer, rather than just a multipurpose/use facility.  

A note on clawback from the Children’s Minister, Aug 2018:  

Currently, the Department for Education considers clawback of Sure Start capital on a case by case basis and already has the option of waiving clawback if there is a strong case for doing so. However, the vast majority of local authorities that have changed the use of children’s centre buildings to date – including local authorities that have introduced family hub models such as the Isle of Wight and Staffordshire – have had clawback deferred. 

Deferring clawback means that the department accepts the change of usage at the time but retains an interest in the asset and may clawback funding in the future if circumstances change. We will of course keep clawback provisions under review. However, at the moment we believe the current clawback process provides sufficient flexibility to allow those local authorities who wish to change the use of children’s centre buildings to do so. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Measuring outcomes

What areas are you considering for your hub outcomes frameworks? How does this align with broader health and social care objectives?

‘We have 23 new outcome measures of wellbeing, as well as mandated health visitor activity measures, and in addition to delivery of universal and targeted interventions, we have much more direct accountability for families at risk of not achieving outcomes being identified and work undertaken to evidence that those outcomes have been achieved.  

Nationally we’ve known for some time that there is a need for both universal and targeted services. But we still need to get a lot smarter at holding ourselves to account for more direct measures of outcomes we seek, e.g. Pre- and post- intervention on a parenting course can show positive distance travelled, but if the cause is parental stress/discord through worklessness and what’s needed is an economically viable family we need to reflect on what we’re measuring if we’re serious about achieving the outcome and knowing that we’ve achieved it.’ Answer provided by Adrian Coggins and Richard Comerford.  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

To date we have seen steady referrals for Targeted early help support in line with figures from last year. However, we have seen a drop of 26% in referrals for intensive family support as many of our referrers and early help assessment completers are schools who have not been operational. We expect a surge of referrals once schools return in September. (Answer given by Simon Dear and Rachel Mckernan, representing the Isle of Wight)  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

I’m developing an Early Help Framework for my local authority. This will include a summary of the research behind Family Hubs to set the scene as to why we’re moving forwards in this way. Could you recommend any research about Family Hubs that I should reference? Or where I could find this if the Family Hubs Network has collated this already?

This website has a section on the timeline of Family Hubs policy which gives some useful history ( and also some links to the most helpful research reports ( 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)


On the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Wight council and Barnardo’s have worked together with forward forecasting for the funding of the service. Barnardo’s did not include Payment by Results (PBR) forecasts in financing the service in the first two years of contract being aware that funding would taper.  

Any PBR earned was therefore carried forward year on year to meet shortfall in years 3, 4 and 5 of the contract. Now in year 6, the primary funding for IFS comes from the carry forward of PBR earned by Barnardo’s during previous years of the contract. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

We don’t have a cost benefit analysis which we are free to share but would invite council areas to share their own if they are able.  

The key factors to take into account would be: 

  • Cost savings from co-location. 
  • Benefits achieved through joint working, facilitated by co-location, including the ability to deal with the underlying causes of referrals to services. 
  • The benefit of a properly directed voluntary workforce with a reduction in duplication and misdirected efforted.  
  • The improvement in outcomes which Family Hubs would create and the cost-savings this would generate e.g. reduction in A and E visits, unplanned hospital admissions, reduction in Children’s social worker engagement, reduction in drug and alcohol worker engagement etc. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Reaching Families, Reducing Stigma

With so many services in one Hub – how can we prevent stigma and ensure families are comfortable accessing this? (e.g. young people often don’t want to attend a space where their parents would go to, ‘universal’ parents might be nervous about accessing services deemed too close to ‘social care’)

Hubs can have a large range of services under one roof – early years, parenting support, public health, youth services etc. – and “marketing” all of this in a way that avoids stigma/young people being put off is vital. Stigma is reduced when parents access universal services such as birth registration, and all the other help is visibly badged as ‘most families need support at some point’. Being welcoming is a priority, which is about the culture, as is making it clear that everyone there wants to work with the parents, not judge them. Finally, the Hub will offer a range of support but much activity will be elsewhere in the community and signposted through the IAG (Information, Advice and Guidance) available on the front desk/through a relationally superb front-of-house worker.  

It may be that the youth worker does not deliver support within the Hub but works in an integrated way with others who do. We know of a GP surgery which has a different door for young people to come through and a separate section in the practice where they wait/are seen, so they aren’t worried about bumping into their parents. There are other options like this which multi-purpose buildings have refined.  

As other answers explain further it’s more about working to a Family Hub model than making the Hub building the ‘be all and end all’. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Are Family Hubs just for families with trouble or for everyone to go for family community services?  Otherwise it will still have stigma…

Family Hubs should be a place for everyone who needs help.  This should include families who simply want to access community services but also for those needing targeted support for the really tricky stuff like reducing parental conflict. This is where the beauty of accessing universal and early years services in and through Hubs comes in, and why some Hubs are in venues like public libraries where people can come through the door for a range of other reasons. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

How do you make sure that Family Hubs are accessible to the families that most need the support? In the past one of the criticisms aimed at Children’s Centres may have been that their services may have been dominated by well-resourced families whose outcomes are probably good anyway.

This is an important issue. One way to support this is ensuring that the pathways from Children’s social care are appropriately set. Referrals from Children’s social care which find no further action necessary, but where the social worker deems that the family would benefit from additional support can signpost the family to the Family Hub.  

However, the Hub is also the Early Help Front Door families can walk through i.e. they can self-refer when they are struggling. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)


As well as the interface with adult services, including health primary through to specialist and including mental health, what is the relationship with and involvement of schools?

Schools can be the site for Family Hubs and the Family Hubs Network can put local authorities in touch with areas that have gone down this route. Schools certainly need to be integrated with the rest of the local family support infrastructure as they often spot families in early difficulties and provide a range of practical help e.g. to tackle food poverty. It may be that whilst they are key deliverers of support to families they act as spokes or delivery sites to Hubs.  

This will depend on whether a) they are the early help front door parents access to find out the full range of support available and b) if schools feel comfortable about getting involved in/providing services to do with complex relational issues within the family including chronic parenting difficulties and couple conflict. If they refer parents to Early Help when they need something beyond what the school offers they are probably a spoke not a Hub.  

It’s a little complicated by the fact that many schools are emerging as superb ‘community hubs’ which means they are the ‘go to’ place for a range of community activities. However, this is not the same thing as providing an early help front door when families are experiencing relational and not just practical difficulties. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Central government

Could we have an update on the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to ‘champion Family Hubs to serve vulnerable families with the intensive, integrated support they need to care for children – from the early years and throughout their lives.’?

The Government has earmarked £2.5m for research into early intervention, including Family Hubs, and have asked the Family Hubs Network to work with them on the research specification. Also, the Troubled Families team have included ‘integrated hubs’ as part of their Early Help System guide available at The Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures have both been engaging with relevant Government departments to press the case for Family Hubs and to encourage a joined-up approach at national level. We feel there is a window of opportunity now given the highly localised response to the Covid-19 crisis. Many local areas are anxious to maintain the local service delivery infrastructure (often in the form of a very local family/community hub) which has developed in response to the pandemic.  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Local government would benefit greatly from clear guidance from central government, which has promised to champion Family Hubs. Whilst the £2.5m for research is very welcome, we are encouraging them to do more in the form of a Transformation Fund. This would provide some funding over a four-year period to cover some or all of: staff leadership of change; coordination of services for families on the ground; and development of missing services such as couple support before, during and after separation; child-to-parent violence programmes etc. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

The introduction of Children’s Centres has made a big difference in communities but for some this designation sends the message that ensuring children are safe and looked after is all that matters. Obviously, it is vital, but we also need to strengthen families so parents and carers are enabled to raise their children well, as they aspire to do, but find incredibly challenging for many reasons. However, some Family Hubs retain the name Children’s Centres, even though they have broadened their aims and are working in a different way, because they have found through consultation that this is the community preference.  

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Reducing parental conflict

How can Family Hubs operate to provide information and signposting to parents and young people following family separation?  Parents need support to understand the risk of harm to children if conflicts escalate, and the long-term benefits of cooperative parenting. Could Family Hubs provide a practical solution to the current gap in provision, and how would they operate?

One model we have seen work is training the receptionist or ‘first contact person’ who is delivering ‘Information, Advice and Guidance’ in the more specialist area of signposting towards couple relationship support, particularly in the area of reducing parental conflict. This could be supplemented with training on an awareness of what mediators do; how to navigate other quasi-legal support available in an area; and when a legal professional is required. 

Training to make practitioners better able to talk to families about couple relationship issues is being delivered across the country through the Government’s Reducing Parental Conflict programme. This is largely because of the need to triage/assess the possibility that domestic abuse, as such there is a lot of overlap with standard family support/safeguarding training.  

With these caveats it should be said that Family Hubs would be an ideal access point – as Samantha Callan has mentioned, in Australia and Norway there is community-based support in Family Relationship Centres for parents struggling in this area: before, during and after separation. 

(Source: Family Hubs: Building Back Better Webinar, hosted by Family Hubs Network and Mutual Ventures, July 2020)

Voluntary Sector

I think we all have a growing recognition that partnership across sectors is vital, yet making that happen is often difficult. The things that get in the way include issues of data sharing, funding and different styles of working. However, during the COVID pandemic, we have seen such issues overcome across the country. 

It seems that the most important first step is building relationships; don’t try to resolve partnership across a local authority area – start in the Family Hub locality. Relationship develops through trust and understanding, we know that in our work with families, but it is also true in our partnerships with others. We have one thing in common – the families we want to support – so start there. Pop by a Family Hub, meet the team, hear what they are doing, talk about what you can offer and see how you might work together. As the relationship develops, there will be opportunity to start to plan together, shape a partnership and look at funding streams that could support that. Remember, it’s a two-way street, the social sector can access money the Local Authority can’t and vice versa.

(Source: Avril McIntyre, MBE DL, Director, Community Resources)

As soon as Local Authorities start to talk about cross-sector working, the idea of a directory is usually in the mix. May I humbly suggest we bin all directories – they are out of date within a few months, no one looks at them and they don’t really help anyone collaborate. At the same time, let’s not rush to Local Authority wide partnership meetings to look at how we might work together – that will come later. 

If a Family Hub is getting started and not yet got social sector partnerships in place, then the first step is to go out and see what is in the community around the Hub. It sounds simple, but relationship over process is always the best place to start and. Don’t invite people in, go to them – find out what they do and meet the team. Understand the families they are supporting and how this overlaps with what the Family Hub offers. Look for opportunities to cross- refer and build a ‘locality offer’ that includes what is available through social sector organisations. 

As trust and understanding grows in the locality, it will be the basis for replication in other places and then it’s worth developing a local authority-wide partnership plan, putting families first; co-designed with partners. 

(Source: Avril McIntyre, MBE DL, Director, Community Resources)


Denise Beevers, Locality Service Manager, at Doncaster Council: ‘We recognise that families will only be able to access our services if they know we are here so an important part of our work is marketing our services to raise families’ awareness. Our online presence plays an important part in this.

‘Our Family Hubs are featured on the main Doncaster Council website. It appealed to us to create our own website but because the main council website is well known, receives a lot of traffic and has well developed search engine optimisation (so families are likely to find us if they search), it made sense to inform families about Family Hubs on the main council website. Our webpage explains what Family Hubs offer, invites families to sign up for membership and provides contact information for all 12 Family Hubs. From there families can find out more about each Family Hub by using the link to the Facebook page.

‘Each Family Hub has its own Facebook page and this is where we post our what’s on information and really build our relationship with the local community, through posting regularly and ensuring our tone is friendly, informal and welcoming. We are also beginning to use Instagram too.

‘During the Covid pandemic, we have developed a Virtual Family Hub webpage on the Doncaster Council website, where families can use Live Chat to talk to a member of staff, in the same way that they could drop into a Family Hub in normal times, as that’s a really important part of our service.

‘On the Virtual Family Hub page, we also have a timetable of everything that the 12 Family Hubs are offering online. Links take you to the specific Family Hub Facebook page so you can join whichever Facebook live activity you choose. It’s a great way of getting our offer to the widest audience.’

Key roles

Denise Beevers, Locality Service Manager at Doncaster Council, describes the role of Family Engagement worker. ‘We have introduced Parent Engagement workers which have made a big difference in Doncaster. ‘Our Family Hubs work closely with Stronger Families (Doncaster’s Troubled Families Programme), which funds our Parent Engagement workers, who were introduced a couple of years ago. We have Family Support workers who work at a higher threshold of need in terms of safeguarding, whereas the Parent Engagement workers operate at an early intervention level to hopefully stop families progressing to a greater level of need. Our families have really benefited from this initiative.

‘For example, a young mum who lives on her own in a flat may be struggling with her baby. The Health Visitor may request a Parent Engagement worker because they see that the baby is not being stimulated sufficiently. Once the Parent Engagement worker starts working with the young person, they realise other things are affecting the situation, such as debt, so the Parent Engagement worker can make a real difference, addressing the bigger picture which is often the best way to solve problems.’

Ethnic Minorities

We regularly check attendance and engagement data to ensure our BAME communities are accessing Family Hub services. Linking in with community groups in churches, schools and the wider Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council supports this work and working with our colleagues in interpreting services has certainly increased participation. Two examples of this are engaging interpreter services with parenting groups and a range of short videos in different languages we have developed to promote 2-year-old funding that have been shown on social media such as Facebook and Instagram. 

(Source: Denise Beevers, Locality Service Manager (Central and East) at Doncaster Council) 

A family was new to the area with a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old and a newborn, and the two older children had no educational placement. With English as an additional language, they were struggling to apply for this. The key worker met with the parents to discuss what was required and organised a face-to-face appointment with the primary school, the key worker and the family to sort the application; they also sourced uniforms for each child from the school. Within a week, the older children had places at the school. 

(Source: Denise Beevers, Locality Service Manager (Central and East) at Doncaster Council) 

We’ve done some terrific work with Traveller families, particularly during the pandemic. For example, in the south of Essex we’ve built excellent links with the Headteacher of a local school to provide continuous support to vulnerable children and their families, especially during periods of lockdown and during school holidays. This relationship has enabled us to identify and link these families with the local food bank who have provided parcel deliveries to their homes. In addition, we regularly attend the Traveller Wellbeing meeting with partner agencies to plan how engage and support Traveller families who may need our help. 

A specific case example is the support we gave a single-parent Traveller family with her two boys – one school age and one nursery age. Both children have severe tooth decay and neither one had seen a dentist.  The Health Visitors and Healthy Family Support Workers worked hard to ensure they were registered with a dentist and were given an appointment for an emergency check-up once the dentists has reopened following lockdown. A developmental assessment was undertaken for the youngest child as his behaviour was becoming unmanageable without structure and routine ordinarily experienced in early years settings and school. His Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) results justified a referral to the local paediatrician to determine whether he has a neurodevelopmental condition. The family remains engaged with our service and well supported. 

(Source: Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service)