Born into care: a co-production approach

Adrienne McKie, Development Support Officer at Blackpool Better Start, makes the case for a sensitive and humane approach to supporting babies born in care.

Adrienne McKie

The number of babies born into care has increased over the past decade. In response to the best practice guidelines for when the state intervenes at birth, Blackpool Better Start committed to coproduce a local action plan to develop more sensitive and humane practice in Blackpool. We recognised the opportunity to bring together parents and carers with lived experience with other key stakeholders, to work together to bring about a change to service and systems in the town.

Under the Better Start Blackpool partnership, we developed two co-production groups: a ‘Mothers’ group and a ‘Fathers’ group. The groups consisted of parents with lived experience, professionals from a co-production team, children’s social care service managers, specialist midwives and Lancaster University.

A total of seven parents were part of the groups - four mothers and three fathers - all of whom had experience of children’s social care. Parents were supported by individuals from the co-production team.

The first action for each of the groups was to create an agreement on working together, acknowledging that conversations may be highly emotional and challenging. Recognising the importance of creating a comfortable space for all, it was agreed that the initial meetings were spent getting to know each other in neutral spaces. Activities included walking on the Blackpool promenade and attending local gym classes and picnics in the park.

After the initial relationship-building, discussions and activities were framed around the experience of children's social care, for example discussing experiences of maternity wards, the involvement of social workers, legal processes, and the involvement of Dads.

At the end of 10 weeks, the ‘Mothers’ and ‘Fathers’ groups were brought together and a film was produced which highlighted the eight principles which parents identified as key to creating the best approach in Blackpool.

The findings from the two groups were presented to a Born into Care steering group, made up of stakeholders from the Better Start Blackpool parentship. After several discussions, it was agreed that steering group members would take part in two workshops to design a theory of change for Born into Care to ensure consensus on the end vision.

The steering group also developed a further three co-production working groups looking at priorities identified during the initial discussions. The groups were made up of individuals from the Better Start Blackpool partnership, including six parents and carers.

The first working group is ‘Systems and process mapping’. We are working to provide a physical resource for families to support them in navigating the children's social care system.

In the ‘Practice models’ working group, we have been learning from other areas to determine what ingredients could make up a new approach building on what is currently on offer in Blackpool. There is also a rapid evidence review underway.

Finally, in the ‘Relationships and transitions’ group we have been considering how the system can understand and respond appropriately to families' histories.

In each working group, the first sessions were centred around identifying the problem, looking at what is happening in Blackpool and learning from data and activity in other areas. The middle sessions focussed on exploring potential solutions.

Throughout this time there has been ongoing work to create more opportunities for more parents to be involved with the co-production process, and the aim is that more parents will join for the next working groups.

As we near the end of these sessions and the work moves to looking at defining solutions and decision-making, the feedback from those within the groups has been fantastic. The next steps will be to produce and present recommendations for the local action plan to the steering group and to implement changes to better support families in Blackpool.

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.