A Better Start Southend Social and Communication Peer Support Workers; an ever-developing project

Laura Pullum

The Early Years Alliance and A Better Start Southend offer focussed support to families of children with social and communication needs living in Southend. Laura Pullum, Lead Social and Communication Peer Support Worker, describes how the team of Peer Support Workers continue to evolve to meet the needs of the children and families using the service.

The service provides information and support in accessing SEND services and activities in the local area. We hold sensory stay and play sessions and workshops throughout term time and holiday which are for the exclusive use of the families we are supporting. Additionally, we provide support and guidance with any grants or benefits that families may be entitled to.

The project offers workshops for parents covering a range of topics that the families we support often find challenging. These topics include sleep issues, sensory challenges, restricted eating, as well as parent workshops to better understand behaviour as a form of communication. To ensure these workshops are accessible for families, they are held both online and in person, with a creche provided by City Family Explorers.

The team of Peer Support Workers has first-hand experience of parenting children with additional needs in the local community. Drawing from this experience adds a further layer of understanding to the challenges encountered by the families we support, therefore creating an environment in which parents feel encouraged to open-up and share their challenges.

The cost-of-living crisis has had a huge impact on the families we support, so to address the immediate needs of those facing urgent situations, we have organised the distribution of food bank vouchers. Additionally, there's been an increase in other challenges affecting these families, including housing issues and a rise in domestic abuse cases. In response, our team has undergone domestic abuse awareness training to ensure they are well-equipped in how to best support and signpost these families.

The Social and Communication Peer Support Workers team works closely with other local services, and this has been key in providing wraparound care for families. We also collaborate with other SEND services to expand the network of support for families. We have observed that those using our service often form lasting friendships that persist even after the designated support period with our service ends.

Due to the success of the project and subsequent demand, the offer was expanded to cover the entire city of Southend in March 2023.

As we continue to see our project evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of the families we support, we look forward to the year ahead. We hope to keep finding new and innovative ways to support families and children in Southend.

Some feedback from families we have supported:

  • ‘I just watched the last fussy eating course. I really enjoyed it and it's already making huge changes for E (and us!). The PSW team was so personable, positive and encouraging, it all made so much sense, and I've stopped beating myself up about it all.’
  • ‘This service has been a lifeline for my family as we have been able to access services and support groups we didn’t know were available and have made lots of friends.’
  • ‘It’s impacted us hugely; we received confirmation of medical diagnoses, had access to further support groups, and has enabled us to gain financial help with guidance on applications.’
  • ‘[The project has given me] the confidence to parent how I need to in the best interest of my child and not to fear outside judgment. I’ve gained knowledge on what to expect going forward regarding educational help. I’ve gained access to resources. I’ve gained personal advice that has helped me to manage my own son’s condition. I have gained a new outlook on [my son's] autism diagnosis; it has become a positive step in the right direction instead of feeling like it is going to be holding him back.’

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.