The origins of Family Hubs can be traced back to 1949, when ‘child welfare centres’ were proposed as a part of the original welfare state. In the 1980s these first emerged as ‘family centres’, often run by the voluntary sector. Though the family centres did a lot of work with families, they were ultimately limited by a lack of statutory direction and structure.
Family centres paved the way for the national Sure Start Children’s Centres in the 2000s under New Labour, though Sure Start differed from family centres in its pre-school focus and a tightly ringfenced budget. Under New Labour, the increase in early years spending generated social and physical infrastructure which still exists to this day.
Meanwhile, the concept of Family Hubs gained traction in the later New Labour years, cited in the 2007 Centre for Social Justice report Breakthrough Britain. By 2015 Labour had committed to ‘restore the role of Sure Start centres as Family Hubs…to shift from sticking plaster solutions to integrated early help.’ This was followed by reports from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children’s Centres and the Children’s Commissioner commending the good practice of Family Hubs emerging across the country.
Many Conservative MPs contributed to this snowballing support for Family Hubs, so that by 2019 they were a part of the Conservative manifesto and in 2020 the government pledged an initial £2.5m towards research. Over the course of 2020 and 2021 more funding was put towards Family Hubs, including £20m from a fund rewarding public sector innovation (the Shared Outcomes Fund) and £82m in the 2021 Autumn Budget to pilot Hubs in 75 local authorities.
Several government departments now have a stake in Family Hubs, signalling their growing buy-in across government. These include the Department for Work and Pensions, through the Reducing Parental Conflict Programme; the Department of Health and Social Care, through the Leadsom Review promoting the best start for life; the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, through the Supporting Families programme; and the Ministry of Justice, in its pilot scheme integrating family courts and Family Hubs.
The history behind Family Hubs is long but, as one Director of Children’s Services put it, they are “an idea whose time has come.”
1989 The Children Act states ‘Every local authority shall provide such family centres as they consider appropriate in relation to children within their area.’
1994 The Audit Commission report ‘Seen But Not Heard’ highlights the need to give family support a high priority, and recommends that family centres should be developed as a suitable focus for this work.
1998 Labour announces one of its flagship policies, Sure Start, in Parliament.
1999 Sure Start launches as an area-based programme to deliver services and support to young children and their families in the 20% poorest wards in England with £450 million in funding in the first three years.
2000 The Government publishes Every Child Matters which proposed a shift from the centrally-controlled, targeted Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) to children’s centres. These centres would be controlled by local authorities and provide universal support. By this point there were 524 SSLPs.
2004 Phase One extends full coverage to the 20% most disadvantaged wards in England. This phase mostly involves converting existing SSLPs into children’s centres. A second Government report, The Ten Year Childcare Strategy concludes that children’s centres will form part of the government’s drive to increase the quality and availability of childcare and services for young children and families.
2006 Phase Two brings the core offer to the remaining areas in the bottom 30% of the deprivation scale. The Childcare Act creates legal duties for local authorities to establish and run children’s centres.
2007 Capital funding peaks in 2007-08 at approximately £280 million and the Centre for Social Justice publishes the first Breakthrough Britain report, outlining the case for Family Hubs.
2008 Phase Three extends coverage of the programme nationwide.
2010 3633 children’s centres have opened by July, exceeding the Government target of 3500. The ‘core offer’ is replaced by a ‘core purpose’, which sets an overall objective for children’s centres of improving outcomes for young children and their families, particularly amongst those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, in order to reduce inequalities in child development and school readiness.
2014 The Centre for Social Justice published an update to the 2007 Breakthrough Britain report – Fully Committed? How A Government Could Reverse Family Breakdown which, although written by a different working group, came to the same conclusion on the centrality of Family Hub model to family support.
2015 Labour Party Manifesto commits to ‘restore the role of Sure Start centres as family hubs…[and] encourage local services to co-locate, so that they work together to shift from sticking plaster solutions to integrated early help.’
2016 The All Party Parliamentary Group on Children’s Centres publishes Family Hubs: the Future of Children’s Centres and the Children’s Commissioner publishes Family Hubs: A Discussion Paper which states ‘Family Hubs deliver holistic, early intervention services to a whole community. Their introduction is a clear next step to coordinate existing services and support.’
2017 The Manifesto to Strengthen Families is launched with the support of 60 Conservative MPs and Members of the Lords. They commit to encouraging every Local Authority to work with voluntary and private sector partners to deliver Family Hubs.
2019 Good practice is emerging across the country as more and more local authorities, voluntary sector and other providers across the country open Family Hubs. The Conservative Manifesto commits ‘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.’
2020 The Troubled Families programme team in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government releases an Early Help System Guide laying out good practice. Including in this is: ‘Public services work together in integrated hubs based in the community with a common footprint.’
In the March 2020 budget, the Chancellor committed £2.5million “…for research and developing best practice around the integration of services for families, including family hubs, and how best to support vulnerable children.”
In December, government announces plans to create a National Centre for Family Hubs.
2021 Multiple pots of funding for Family Hubs are introduced: the Growing Up Well project, the Transformation Fund, and the Regional Recovery and Building Back Better Fund.
In the Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announces £82m funding for Family Hubs as part of a £300m package to support families.
In November, bidding for the Transformation Fund opens, with 12 successful local authorities receiving £1 million each to pilot Family Hubs.
2022 Family Hubs are referenced in the Levelling Up White Paper as a part of the answer to levelling up Britain.