Agenda item

The Committee will receive an update on and review progress of the Family Support Service, a new Early Years model which was introduced in September 2019.



Mr Mark Shaw, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services

Mrs Anita Cranmer, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills

Mr Tolis Vouyioukas, Corporate Director for Children’s Services

Mr Simon James, Service Director, Education

Mr Gareth Morgan, Head of Early Help


The Chairman welcomed Councillor Mark Shaw, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Councillor Anita Cranmer, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Mr Tolis Vouyioukas, Corporate Director for Children’s Services Mr Gareth Morgan, Head of Early Help and Mr Simon James, Service Director, Education.


Councillor Shaw advised that it had been agreed, by cabinet decision in March 2019, that a Family Support Service (FSS) be provided.   The FSS launched on 2 September 2019 and aimed to provide local services to families at the right time.  There were three teams; in Aylesbury, High Wycombe and the Chiltern and South Bucks area whose focus was to improve family resilience and obtain the best outcomes for children and young people.  Positive feedback had been received and the Buckinghamshire Council Improvement Partner, Hampshire County Council, had been impressed with progress to date, bearing in mind the impact of Covid-19.  Over the last year the FSS had seen a 16% increase in people seeking help and advice.  Councillor Shaw expressed his gratitude to all staff over the last year and added that there would a greater sense of concern over children and young people’s wellbeing during the second lockdown.


Mr James highlighted the recommendations in the report and emphasised that the focus of the service was to provide the right support at the right time and to intervene as early as possible.  Mr James explained that there was flexibility in the way the service offered its support to families across the county and there were two primary aims for the service; firstly, to support vulnerable families and their children to achieve positive outcomes and, secondly, to make sure that services were integrated wherever possible to improve the resilience of families and the local communities.


Between the start of the service and March 2020 the service ran as planned; however, following the first lockdown, the majority of the service was provided by virtual contact.  There was also an online Family Information Service (FIS) to help families self-serve.  77% of the outcomes agreed with families had been achieved and the improvement had been noted by the Improvement Board.  However, there was always scope for improvement and the FSS would continue to focus on three areas:  to ensure that all plans reflected issues across the whole family and were considered in a holistic way; to ensure that a reflective approach was embedded, particularly in connection with supervision and to ensure that the recording and case summaries were always up to date and appropriately detailed.  Performance would be monitored on a monthly and quarterly basis. 


The following points were raised during discussion:


  • A Member asked for clarification on whether the youth service would be brought back in-house as he reported hearing that young people had nowhere to go. Demand was rising and the Member asked how the service was coping with budget pressures and Covid-19.  Mr Tolis Vouyioukas, Corporate Director, Children’s Services, stated that the family support model included a youth offer targeted to those who needed it most.  The report referred to a model that was based on local need instead a of a ‘one size fits all’ approach.   Buckinghamshire Council, like any other local authority in the country, knew that families were finding the situation challenging and were working to make sure they had the right support.  Mr Morgan added that the oversight of the 16 community-led youth centres had been brought back in-house to enable the team to work alongside youth practitioners in community settings in order to increase capacity across the county for young people to obtain support and guidance appropriate to need. 
  • Covid-19 had provided the opportunity to create a virtual forum for shared ideas and to develop shared responses.  There was a real pressure around the services as well as the voluntary community led groups; youth practitioners continued to operate within the integrated FSS to effectively target and support families with teenagers.  The youth practitioners also carried out one to one work and worked alongside partner organisations to make the best use of resources to support young people through these difficult times. 
  •  Mr Morgan noted that the Community Boards would also help to support the development of responses to local community need alongside FSS provision.
  • A Member commented that the report did not provide a correlation between the old and the new service; a higher number of people were being seen but he queried how the quality of outcomes was being measured.   Mr Morgan stated that there was no direct comparison.   The report set out the progress made against the three particular areas that the service wanted to change i.e. accessibility, being connected to communities and partner agencies and providing a more targeted service towards those families most in need of support.  In terms of a direct comparison on the Children's Centre and family centre models, the nearest detail available was the increased number of sessions that were being run out of 16 sites compared to 35 children's centre sites; the comparison in terms of the age range and also the level of activity which was targeted at families who had additional needs compared to those using children's centres in order to access universal provision.
  • Accessibility had improved as there had been a 21% increase in demand; 16% of those accessing the service came from the individuals themselves.  The other accessibility improvement was the online and digital offer that the service provided; demand had increased across all the platforms resulting in increased access to support services.
  • In response to concern over the expected surge at the end of the second lockdown and how the FSS would deal with the increased demand, Mr Morgan explained that much of the work with families started pre-lockdown would have concluded which had created capacity now to respond to increasing demand.  The Service had adapted their way of working during the second lockdown and had continued to see families face to face where possible. 
  • A Member asked where the 16 centres were and requested assurance that those who needed help were able to access help; Mr Morgan agreed to re-circulate a list, but confirmed that the 16 centres were chosen after careful data and needs analysis.  Mr Morgan reiterated that demand had increased and that the right people were being reached.

ACTION:  Mr Morgan to circulate a list of the 16 Family Centres.

  • Concern was expressed over the impact of lockdown on young people’s mental health and whether the strategy supported the children individually or just as a family.   Mr Morgan explained that the service did recognise that young individuals needed help; a family support worker was linked to every school in the county; staff had been seconded to the mental health support scheme in schools (an externally funded partnership project) and the FSS played a significant part in formation of those teams in order to respond early and support young people to build their resilience.
  • Mr Morgan confirmed that the FSS was promoted via the FIS and social media but communication was not sent out via the school children; however, the FSS had regular dialogue with all the schools and there was a reliance on partner agencies.  Mr James stressed that it was a targeted service and that not all parents would necessarily know about it.
  • Following a query on whether there was sufficient resources to support the virtual clubs and health and wellbeing in youth clubs and whether analysis had been carried out to determine which sessions should be prioritised to reach the right people; Mr Morgan advised that the FSS was constantly considering requests to deliver sessions and would like to be able  to deliver session in more community based locations; there was more work to be carried out with the Community Boards to explore new opportunities.   Mr James added that he was confident there were sufficient resources which were used in a targeted, careful way, in partnership and collaboration with partners, across Buckinghamshire.  Mr Morgan confirmed that training would be provided to youth centres if required, once it was safe to do so.
  • Reference was made to the graph on page 17 of agenda pack.  The report stated 77% of families achieved their outcomes but the graph showed 63% family outcomes achieved.   Mr Morgan explained the discrepancy in that 63% was the percentage of outcomes of everyone who was referred into the FSS (the gross figure).  The figure of 77% was the percentage of families who positively engaged with the FSS i.e. a net figure measured against a slightly reduced cohort.
  • In response to being asked whether use of the ‘positive parenting’ scheme had been considered as a preventative measure; Mr Morgan stated that the FSS did deliver the course where possible.  The ‘Family Links’ programme was used by the Service as it focussed on mental wellbeing within the family as the foundation for change.  It was a targeted offer at level 2.  The FSS did not have the resource to roll parenting support out as a universal offer but with the health visitor service and various other services there was a large parenting offer across the county to address a significant amount of need.  Mr Morgan highlighted that the non-targeted part of the service was available via the FIS; every school had been provided with an FIS information pack but it would be possible to send out a refresh.  One of the Members added that a link could also be posted on school web sites.


The Chairman thanked everyone for their contribution.


RESOLVED:  The Children and Education Select Committee NOTED the progress made and impact achieved by the Family Support Service in the first year of operation.


Supporting documents: