Organising communities to give babies the best start in life
A unique community-led network of social support and health education working to improve outcomes for babies and parents in Walworth and Camberwell, and tackle social isolation and barriers to accessing health services.
Who: Citizens UK
Start date: July 2015
End date: February 2018
Grant value: £685,519
Parents often need support to make sure their child has the best start in life – the community in which they live can play a vital role in this.
Parents and Communities Together - PACT (previously known as Strengthening Babies' Futures) is aiming to improve the health and developmental outcomes of babies in Southwark. It is bringing together parents and carers, community and faith groups, education organisations, children’s centres, and maternity services to tackle social isolation and break down barriers to accessing health services.
Through this innovative project from Citizens UK – a charity that organises communities to act together – a unique community-led network of social support and health education is being established to increase social participation, reduce maternal isolation and distress, and increase parents’ confidence, health knowledge and understanding at this crucial phase of life.
The network aims to increase ‘social capital’ and ‘health literacy’. ‘Social capital’ is the participation in community organisations, informal social networks and voluntary associations; and the social connections that this results in. ‘Health literacy’ is the skills that allow people to gain access to, understand and use information on health and improving health.
PACT is officially launched at an event at Surrey Square School in Southwark.
Training starts with the first cohort of twelve parents champions is recruited from mosques, churches, tenants and residents' associations and primary schools.
PACT involves the development of a social support network, made up of local civic and community organisations, as well as education and health institutions. Each institution has 'parent champions' who are responsible for building relationships with new parents and encouraging participation in the initiatives. In particular, these parent champions reach out to mothers who seem isolated. Champions are trained to identify vulnerable parents within their communities, provide them with social support and refer them to other local support services.
Parent hubs, some known as 'MumSpace', are being established in community settings, for example primary schools and churches. Community organisers attending the hubs work to identify and take action on common issues such as housing problems, and access to health and childcare services.
A ‘parent university’ programme of pregnancy and early parenting health education is designed to improve health literacy. The curriculum is co-designed by parents and health professionals, and includes mental health and parenting, how hormones impact on feelings, nutrition, infant learning and parenting skills. This will provide parents with the tools to give the best, healthiest start in life to their child.
“It has been fantastic to have the support of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. For this sort of innovative community-health partnership their willingness to fund a pilot and to fund a co-production phase has been critically important. The financial support has been matched by constructive critique and encouragement, as well as connections to other useful networks.”
Matthew Bolton, Deputy Director and Lead Organiser for Citizens UK
Southwark is ranked within the 10 per cent most deprived local authority areas in the country. Many children born in the borough face social problems such as cultural dislocation, isolation, language barriers and poverty.
Health and social care policy has focused on the need to improve the health of the more deprived populations in the country by improving the social determinants of health, including lack of social support, social exclusion and poor access to health services.
Many mothers in Southwark may not be classed as ‘high risk’ and do not receive specialist services, but nonetheless are isolated with poor social support. If English is not their first language, this can often inhibit communication, both social and relating to health.
Communities are well placed to provide social support and help improve parental mental health and confidence. PACT will tackle the poor health issues of the next generation born in Southwark, particularly those associated with social difficulties in infancy.
Citizens UK is a charity that organises communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good. They develop the leadership capacity of members so they can hold politicians and other decision-makers to account on the issues that matter to them.
PACT aims to positively influence children’s health and developmental outcomes. The completed initiative resulted in:
Due to the success of the initial model rolled out and completed in Southwark, PACT is now expanding the programme to Newcastle, Leeds, Lewisham and extending their work in Southwark thanks to additional funding from Nesta.
It will be a fantastic opportunity for Citizens UK to mobilise 254 more volunteers and support at least 900 families and further their impact on improving social support and health education to infants and parents.