Rebuilding the Future: Putting Babies and Children First

Sarah Creek, Senior Development Officer at the National Children’s Bureau, reflects on an illuminating early years event in Blackpool.

Held virtually on the 14 October, Blackpool’s Better Start's 2021 Annual Conference ‘Rebuilding the Future: Putting Babies and Children First’ illuminated Blackpool’s commitment to putting early childhood at the heart, providing the right support for children and families through innovative and collaborative approaches.

Clare Law, Director at the Centre for Early Child Development and Neil Jack, Chief Executive of Blackpool Council, opened the conference sharing their reflections on Blackpool’s approach.

Watch the 'Rebuilding the Future: Putting Babies and Children First' video.

Neil observed that “Blackpool is a place of innovation and imagination… we’re also a place that’s about people… that is what we see is the heart of what A Better Start is about and what is fundamental to us as a local authority but also to the town and it’s community. It’s about how we make sure we deliver the best outcomes for our people.”

Clare highlighted the Blackpool Better Start approach, “Community is at the heart of everything we do, and doing things alongside, not ‘to’ people” and this commitment to co-production and co-design with the community was evident in the different sessions throughout the day.

Blackpool and the national perspective

Dame Rachel De Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, shared findings from ‘The Big Ask’, the largest ever survey of it’s kind, sharing the voices of half a million children – the voice of a generation.

Dame Rachel described this as a “pivotal moment for the youngest children in England - we must put these children at the heart of our national effort to recover from the pandemic.” She also reminded us that it “takes a community to raise a child” and that it is vital for services to work together to provide the right support for young children.

Watch as Dame Rachel De Souza shares findings from ‘The Big Ask'

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO of NSPCC, spoke about NSPCC’s learning from Better Start Blackpool, highlighting that the place-based approach and collaboration with the community – coming together to make decisions and a difference to families and young children – is influencing NSPCC’s work in other areas. His message to Blackpool Better Start was to “take huge pride in the progress that has been made up to this point – you are making a really important difference to families in Blackpool, but you are demonstrating and evidencing learning which is of such value to people way beyond the town itself”.

Watch as Sir Peter Wanless speaks about NSPCC’s learning from Better Start Blackpool

Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Campaigning at the Parent Infant Foundation, spoke about the challenges for babies before the pandemic and that these have in many cases been exacerbated by the last 18 months. She urged us to build back better for babies – not going back to what it was, but going forwards, learning and improving. Sally encouraged practitioners to showcase what has been achieved in Blackpool through focussing on young children and working with families and communities to make such a difference.

Watch as Sally Hogg speaks about the challenges for babies before the pandemic

The local perspective

Six workshops were offered sharing novel ways of supporting children and families in Blackpool, including ‘Innovative Approaches to Supporting Mums with Postnatal Depression’. This workshop highlighted the important work being done in Blackpool to support mums and young babies.

Innovative Approaches to Supporting Mums with Postnatal Depression

Working with Professor Heather O’Mahen, Professor in Perinatal Clinical Psychology, University of Exeter, Health Visitors in Blackpool are supporting postnatal mothers with mild-moderate depression through a guided self-help intervention called ‘Behavioural Activation’ (BA).

Professor Heather O’Mahen says it was evident there was a gap in treatment provision for women who have complex social and personal circumstances and also have mild-moderate depression. BA seeks to address this gap, and one advantage is that it can be offered immediately if low mood is identified by a health visitor. Another benefit of BA is ‘Personalised Principles’, that is, it has a set of simple principles that can be straightforwardly adapted for each person, providing personalised treatment that’s relatively simple to train people to use effectively.

The overarching aim of BA is to help individuals rebuild a meaningful life and trained Health Visitors work one-to-one with mums over a period of six weeks through a series of guided exercises, helping them to identify TRAPs (Triggers, Response, Avoidance Patterns) and learning to turn TRAPs into TRACs (Triggers, Response, Alternative Coping), as well as identifying further sources of support and developing strategies to stay well in the future. This approach is currently being piloted in Blackpool, with qualitative and quantitative evaluation, before wider roll-out of the programme.

Initial feedback from mums who have benefitted from this innovative approach is positive about its impact, with one mum commenting “BA has really helped my confidence as a new mum and to believe in myself” and another added, “The programme has really helped me to change my behaviour in positive ways.”

As Tracy Greenwood, Specialist Health Visitor for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health in Blackpool, commented “Happy healthy mum equals happy healthy baby”. This programme is supporting and helping mums in Blackpool who otherwise may slip through the net, with the potential to cause worse problems and outcomes for themselves and their babies in the future.

The conference acknowledged the challenges of the pandemic and the impact on families and children, yet also shone a light on what can be achieved with imagination, innovation, collaboration and a commitment to putting babies and children first. It provided real inspiration and encouragement for those working with children and families in Blackpool and beyond: the future can be rebuilt and not only that, it can be better

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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