Parents moulding messages around mutual support

Deborah Auty, Strategic and Development Lead at A Better Start Southend, shares her experience of working with parents to develop the branding and messaging for a new friendly family network.

Deborah Auty

YourFamily aims to create a friendly, welcoming community for families where they can offer each other mutual support and encouragement, as well as get advice from a team of experts over any matter related to the health, development and happiness of their young child, while also ensuring they’re making the most of local services and resources.

It has been co-produced with parents and professionals in Southend, and the creative brief was to find a way of describing it in a way that parents would understand and want to be part of.

Although YourFamily will be provided by A Better Start Southend (ABSS) initially, the longer-term aim is that by the end of this year it will be available to all families in Southend and be part of the transformation of children’s services in the town.

Market testing

We set up an Assurance Group of systems leaders and parents to act as sounding boards for the messaging, ‘look and feel’ and branding of the new concept. We also set up three parent focus groups to test different creative propositions.

The stimulus consisted of an overall elevator pitch of written descriptions and four creative routes – ‘child’, ‘family’, ‘community’ and ‘outcomes – each with copy, mood board, logos and strapline.

We promoted attendance at the focus groups through our social media channels, Southend Borough Council and SAVS, Southend’s volunteer programme. Participants were offered a £20 gift voucher as a thank you for their time. An evening ‘slot’ was provided in addition to two daytime ‘slots’ so that working parents could also attend.

What we discovered

Once the participants had introduced themselves to each other, we asked them about the support they had accessed during their parent journey.

Although parents had received help with breastfeeding, mental health challenges and local foodbanks, many reported feelings of isolation and economic hardship, exacerbated by Covid-19 restrictions. Participants were really looking for social opportunities and friendly assurance on child development issues. Unsurprisingly many had few opportunities to make new ‘mummy friends’ during recent lockdowns.

There’s not a clear place where you can just search the local area and see what baby groups are running.’

Reaction to YourFamily was universally positive. As one parent explained:

‘I think there’s a gap in between going for a coffee and a chat, and social care being involved.’

Participants were most drawn to the ‘Community’ route, though family and child imagery was favoured. The description of Southend as offering a wealth of facilities, services and opportunities was appreciated.

‘I can’t seem to find anything that’s going on and I feel lost. So [a wealth of facilities] has a huge appeal personally.’

Parents felt it was important that a diverse range of families should be represented e.g. grandparents, same-sex couples, children with physical differences. Overall, the images that showed the local area and the authenticity of the ups and downs of parents had strongest resonance.

The focus groups provided some unexpected insight which we will explore further. For example, there was a strong reaction from all three groups to an image of a child receiving a vaccination. A number of parents reported friends and family members challenging their decision to have their child vaccinated. It’s possible that the recent vaccination programme for Covid has been polarising with some taking a strong anti-vaccination position.

Next steps

We had 19 participants altogether. We sent out a pre-screener questionnaire so we knew that we had a good mix of single parents, new parents and families with more than one child. We asked about employment status, disability and ethnic identity. Although not all the parents identified as White-British, some ethnic identities were under-represented and no fathers volunteered. In the next round of testing, in addition to promoting the groups through our own channels, we will be actively approaching dad WhatsApp groups, SEN-support groups and different faith groups to recruit future attendees and ensure YourFamily appeals to all Southend’s families.

We will also use Facebook’s ‘dynamic creative’ function to test different language and imagery and see which drives most engagement.

Deborah Auty is Strategic and Development Lead at A Better Start Southend

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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