Working together in a well-integrated way is at the heart of the Family Hub operation and, in a time of crisis, this is serving communities well. Organisations are responding quickly, nimbly and relatively comfortably to new challenges; working relationships and communication channels already exist; information sharing and joint problem solving are already practised. For example, although parents can no longer simply walk in, Family Hubs have been quickly repurposed as an alternative venue for maternity appointments and food distribution.
“Because of the way we already work in partnership, we have the flexibility to do things differently and respond very quickly”
“Family Hubs have made our response easier – collectively, collaboratively… it’s about corralling everyone together to work around similar objectives”
The box below describes some of the new digital ways of working which Hub staff have enthusiastically embraced: “We’re working as usual but in a very different way.”
The Family Hub model has meant Covid has not stopped families receiving support.
Digital Solutions During Lockdown
New communication practices: with face-to-face contact limited to high–risk families, phone and video calls are becoming the main form of communication, including Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp. Guidelines on permissions and contact record keeping have been challenging, prompting some pragmatic relaxation during this emergency.
Remote programme delivery: where a small group format (such as for parenting support) has had to cease, remote alternatives are quickly being adopted. One-to-one video calls, group video conferencing and/or online resources have been welcomed although concerns have arisen about families’ and practitioners’ privacy and risk to vulnerable participants. Webinars are also being used to support and coach practitioners.
Improved information online: using established websites more effectively, adding more resources and links to other online services. “We’re finally using the Family information Service website for what it was intended.”
Reaching the community via social media: working with existing community groups on social media to reach and engage with people offering or needing help.
Hub deliverers are energised by the long-term possibilities from this period of accelerated innovation achieving better outcomes in normal times. Young people often respond better to contact by message or video call and parents may be more likely to complete programmes accessible from home, alongside virtual or phone-based mentoring.
Because Family Hubs offer support for the whole family, and are not just concerned about young children, their staff have long–term trusted relationships with families and are seen as a source of wider support. Family Hubs are the first port of call for many in this crisis and are the place where families feel most able to confide their fears and concerns.
“I have known some of the teenagers we work with since they were babies”
Integrated working across delivery sites means closure of individual sites during the crisis poses less of a challenge than a single–site approach. Families are aware of other partner sites and as well as phone and online access points.
Family Hubs involve the local authority working in partnership with local voluntary (and private sector) organisations which provide informal support in and through the community. New volunteers are coming forward (presenting some DBS checking challenges). When practitioners are unable to make face to face visits to some families, volunteers in the community can be valuable “eyes and ears”, bring the benefits of a neighbourly relationship – more informal, more present – which has wider potential in the longer term.
“In the local community, people often know the families that need looking out for… We need a community conversation about who needs watching out, who is reaching out and contacting these families. If you have a hub network already, it’s a lot easier to do that.”
The crisis will undoubtedly provide valuable lessons for the future. Just as in wartime, the pandemic will be seen as a period of necessary experimentation and innovation, on a large scale, which can drive improvement and better outcomes in the future.
“Necessity seems to be the mother of invention in these times.”
“Does the Rule Book even exist anymore?”
For good and bad, the Covid-19 crisis will leave its mark. Our hope is that together we can benefit from what we have learned and sustain the new working relationships which have been forged.
“When this is all over, we’ll have a new–found respect for each other because we’ve pulled together in an emergency. Why would we go back?”