Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Start for Life services helping babies achieve better outcomes, but more to do to support delivery

Also published by:
Care Quality Commission

Ofsted and the CQC have today published a joint thematic review of Start for Life services, which provide support for parents from pregnancy until their baby is 2 years old.

The Start for Life programme, which had its funding announced in October 2021, offers a range of services, including health visits, parenting courses, infant feeding, and speech and language support. Family hubs bring these services together to provide families with joined-up support.

Today’s report was commissioned by the government and is based on research visits to 6 local areas. It finds that most families have a positive experience of Start for Life services and highlights many examples of good practice. Families who accessed Start for Life services said they felt more confident in feeding their babies and had better perinatal mental health. They also felt that their children went on to achieve better outcomes. Across all local areas visited, there was a consistent and ambitious vision to deliver joined-up services. Families were overwhelmingly positive about the benefit of this approach.

Read the ‘Start for Life services: thematic review’ report.

However, while recognising the programme is still being embedded and local authorities are at different starting points, the report also identifies areas for improvement. For example, some local areas need to rethink how they advertise the services on offer, as some parents believe family hubs are only for ‘troubled families’ and are not aware of the services available to them.

The report says more support is needed to measure the impact of Start for Life services, including a set a of shared national outcomes, as many local areas find the current reporting requirements too time-intensive. Local authority leaders also outlined the challenges of short-term funding, which they feel prevents them from planning provision for longer periods of time.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have set out a number of recommendations to improve the delivery of Start for Life services, including:

  • Ensure that the Start for Life programme is made available and promoted to all families nationally, to remove any stigma associated with accessing the services.
  • The government should commit to a minimum level of long-term funding for the programme nationally, allowing local areas to establish services and build parents’ trust in Start for Life provision.
  • Central and local government should establish a common set of national outcomes, with space for local areas to develop additional criteria to meet local need.
  • Central government should review reporting requirements linked to funding, to reduce the administrative burden on local authorities.
  • Central government should support local areas to develop joint recording systems to improve information-sharing.
  • Central government should support the sector to ensure there are enough qualified, experienced health professionals working alongside Start for Life staff when they provide health advice.

Yvette Stanley, National Director of Regulation and Social Care, said:

The care and support a child receives in the first few years of their life helps them thrive throughout their childhood and beyond. Start for Life services offer families vital support to help every child get off to the best possible start.

I’m very pleased that many families have had a positive experience using these services. I hope this review helps local services continue to improve the support families receive in the first few years of their child’s life.

Lucy Harte, Deputy Director for Multiagency Operations at the CQC, said:

Local health care professionals, working alongside and with other services can make a real difference to the way that children and their families are supported and develop. Hearing from families about the value of support they have received is deeply encouraging and a testament to those caring people working in services – the challenge now is to learn from this.

Notes to Editors

  1. The 6 local areas included in the thematic review were:
  • Northumberland
  • Sunderland
  • County Durham
  • Hull
  • Torbay
  • Isle of Wight
  1. The review focused on the experiences of families from a child’s conception to age 3. View the full terms of reference.​

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Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/start-for-life-services-helping-babies-achieve-better-outcomes-but-more-to-do-to-support-delivery

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