Lambeth (London), Southend (Essex), Nottingham, Blackpool and Bradford have been awarded up to £50m each from the Big Lottery Fund to test what methods are the best for laying foundations in children’s first three years to improve their future health, social and educational outcomes.
The initiatives, which aim to improve the life chances of more than 60,000 babies and children, will be carried out over a ten-year period.
In Lambeth, the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), is to run projects from 26 sites - eight of them children's centres - to improve breastfeeding rates, social, emotional, communication and language development, and reduce domestic violence and childhood and maternal obesity.
The NCB will enhance 13 of its sites and create outdoor play areas. These centres will be used to bring together all those that work with children, including health professionals and council family support workers and ‘community champions’ to support families in a more ‘coordinated’ way.
A further 50 ‘community champions’ will be recruited in the first year to promote key advice and build connections in the community to reduce the social isolation of some new parents, along with ten more breastfeeding supporters to the existing team.
The Southend Partnership will be led by the Pre-School Learning Alliance. The Alliance will create a Centre of Excellence, Innovation and Best Practice, which will bring together practitioners, researchers, and breastfeeding support workers, to transform maternity care and parental support. A number of workshops will be run from the centre to improve ‘school readiness’, speech and language and address obesity. The partnership expects to improve the lives of 13,000 children in its target areas.
In Blackpool, the NSPCC has been awarded £45m to set-up community environmental projects, which will include creating more open spaces for families to promote the benefits of being active, and launch educational campaigns, focusing on alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and mental ill health.
The NSPCC will also establish a Centre for Early Child Development, with the aim of making it an internationally recognised and renowned source of expertise and innovation in services and systems from pregnancy to the age of three.
In Nottingham, projects to tackle the ‘toxic stress’ caused by family conflict and domestic abuse, parental substance misuse and parental health problems will be delivered from 16 ‘local delivery centres’ across communities. This will include opening up community buildings in the evenings and on weekends.
Staff and volunteers in direct contact with children and families will receive accredited training in communication and engagement, family dynamics, child development, safeguarding and welfare. Family mentors will also be recruited and trained to work alongside professionals.
Bradford Trident, a community-run company, will lead projects in the town to engage with around 20,000 babies and children. This will include reducing midwives’ caseloads so they can make more homes visits and establish links with children’s centres. A ‘befriender’ scheme will also be introduced for all expectant and new mothers affected by or at risk of postnatal depression, along with a service to increase parents’ understanding of infant brain development.
The community-run company will also launch a number of development programmes on home-based learning, outdoor play, storytelling, exercise and nutrition.
Elaine Simpson, chair of the National Children’s Bureau said, 'We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded funding from the Big Lottery Fund, and incredibly excited to be part of what we believe is one of the most innovative investment programmes in recent years. We believe that this support can help to initiate a step-change in services which will improve the lives of children not only in Lambeth, but across England, and we are committed to sharing learning and helping develop working practices and approaches which will ensure this happens.'
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'We are delighted to have been awarded this funding. The Our Children, Our Community, Our Future project will transform the lives of local children and families, and deliver lasting change for the wider Southend community. This decision is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Southend team, the council and all our local partners who have made this ambitious vision a reality.'
Dharmendra Kanani, director of the Big Lottery Fund England, said, ‘Parents want the best for their children and as a society we know that what happens in the first three years of life profoundly affects a child’s future life chances. A poor start in life can affect your health, wellbeing, outlook on life and how you form relationships.
'Prevention matters more in the early years as we have a much greater understanding of what can and might improve the life chances of a future generation, that is why this investment is focusing on the three key areas of social and emotional development, nutrition, and language and communication development.’