North East to get Family Hubs in £1bn package

Thousands of babies, children and families will benefit from a £1bn-plus package of support announced today that will see the creation of new Family Hubs in most council areas of the North East.

The government announced wide-ranging support across its family programmes for those who need extra help to fulfil their potential, levelling up, it said, opportunities for children across the country.

To support parents, 75 local authorities will be eligible for a share of £302m to create new Family Hubs in their areas, including all 12 council areas in the North East except Darlington, Stockton and North Tyneside.

These hubs, said the government, will give parents advice on how to take care of their child and make sure they are safe and healthy – providing services including parenting and breastfeeding support.

To further support children in their early years, £100m of this funding will be shared among eligible areas to roll out bespoke parent-infant relationship and perinatal mental health support.

Through the Supporting Families programme, 300,000 of the most vulnerable families in the country will receive help from a dedicated keyworker who will offer practical assistance, such as hands-on parenting support – backed by £700m.

For those children who grow up in care, and often face multiple challenges without the family support network that others take for granted, the government will provide extra help as they leave the care system and transition to independence. Backed by £172m, care leavers will be able to access practical advice on housing, finance and employment.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

‘If we are to level up outcomes for children facing the biggest challenges, this needs to start at home. Being part of a stable, loving family gives a child an early advantage, which is why we are investing so significantly in helping every family to access the vital services that help them and their children thrive.

‘Evidence shows that some of the most disadvantaged families don’t access vital services. Family Hubs offer localised early help and intervention, from early years support to parenting classes, all of which can make a transformative difference in the lives of parents and carers who may not have a support network.

‘We also have a responsibility to protect young people leaving care, to play our role fully as their corporate parent when their birth parents are unable. This funding will provide them with personal support and guidance as they embark on adult life and contribute fully to their own communities.’

ROUGH SLEEPERS

An additional £3.2m in 2022-23 will help councils to prevent care leavers from sleeping rough as part of the government’s manifesto commitment to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this parliament. The funding will allow councils to appoint specialist homelessness prevention advisers to provide intensive support to care leavers at highest risk of rough sleeping, as well as homeless prevention coordinators to improve the range and quality of accommodation options available to care leavers.

Andrea King, Director of Clinical Division at the Anna Freud Centre, the national centre for children and families, said:

‘We warmly welcome the additional investment from the government into the continuing implementation of Family Hubs across England. It will provide much needed funds to support local children’s services leaders to collaborate and co-design support for some of our most vulnerable children and families through the delivery of Family Hubs.

‘By working within communities and alongside children’s services, Family Hubs are able to deliver early intervention and support services when the need arises. This funding will provide thousands of children and young people with more opportunity to fulfil their potential.’

COMMENT

Family Hubs sound similar to the Sure Start Centres introduced by the Labour Government in 1998. By 2010, when Labour left office, there were 3,632 Sure Start Centres. Under the Coalition Government the number fell to 2,677 main centres plus 705 smaller centres providing children’s services, and under the Conservative Government of 2015-2017 the number of main centres fell again to 2,443 but the number of smaller centres rose to 731 – an overall reduction over the two years of 208.

Local authority gross spending on Sure Start centres in England fell from £1.212bn in 2010/11 to £691m in 2015/16 – a cut of 43%.  

Today’s announcement is the latest in what seems to be a government PR strategy of announcing levelling-up measures one at a time over a period in order to maximise the impact of the positive news they contain rather that making a single ‘big bang’ funding announcement of the day the Levelling Up White Paper was published on February 2.

The White Paper itself was met at the time by complaints of ‘no new money’, but since then this website has reported on three other levelling-up funding announcements before today’s – on February 23 and March 14 for culture and on March 28 in the shape of the Schools White Paper. It remains to be seen how many more cash hand-outs labelled as levelling up are to follow and what they will amount to.

This strategy bears out remarks by Andy Haldane*, part author of the Levelling Up White Paper, who in a recent interview with The House magazine compared the White Paper to the opposite of a bad budget which, he said ‘gets applause on day one and then slowly unravels with each day that passes’. 

On the other hand, the White Paper, he says, may have received a lukewarm reception but over time is garnering a growing number of plaudits. ‘On day one people were saying “there’s no money” but then from day two onwards people started to see the real substance for bringing about lasting change’.

*For transparency, Andy Haldane is chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, of which this author is a Fellow.