75.1. Short description
Aylesham, near Dover, was affected by the vacuum left by the colliery closure at Snowdown in 1989. From the community perspective, the problems created by the mine closure were compounded by a succession of further setbacks including the closure of the secondary school in Aylesham, closure of the library, a reduction in local bus services and the withdrawal of other community services. The ANP is a voluntary sector organisation. It provides a number of different services under one roof: Family Learning; Family Support advice service; Skills Factory employment and skills training; Small Wonders child care; and a children’s centre. This innovative approach can be characterised as holistic services that work together and put clients at ease by being at arm’s length from government-run or contracted services.
75.2. The innovation
Established in 2008, the ANP Family Learning service offers families with children and young people from 0-12 years short-term early intervention. They aim to work with families who are experiencing a wide range of issues that should not be long term and can be resolved in a maximum of eight sessions. The issues being experienced include:
- Low self-esteem (child or parent/carer)
- Emotional difficulties; Helping a child and family to express their feelings
- Relationship difficulties within families
- Social difficulties
- Parent/carer difficulties in connecting emotionally with their child
Support is provided to:
- Build upon families’ relationship with their child/children
- Tackle issues that a family is experiencing
- Provide opportunities for families and children to spend quality time together
- Advise on issues with toddlers and pre-school children
ANP Family Learning service exemplifies an innovative approach to building local cohesion, which has only emerged in the last 10 years. The strapline of ANP Family Learning is “Making a positive change, together.” Family learning is based on the core belief that families are not only our first and most important teachers, they also teach us the most important things in life, and on the research finding that parental involvement in a child’s learning is more powerful than family background, size of family or level of parental education and, in the primary years, has more impact on attainment than a child’s school. Shaping education and social policy to build positively on this insight is innovative.
The progress of families towards their goals (specific changes) is reviewed during their engagement with the service. After sessions are completed, a closing meeting is held with the worker, referrer, child and family to evaluate and celebrate progress. An overall formal evaluation of the wider positive impact of ANP Family Learning on social cohesion in the surrounding community would be difficult to do because its outcomes include some that are hard to measure and quantify, such as, helping those the furthest away from getting into work; raising aspirations; conscious rejection of “tick-box” approaches to delivering services.
75.3. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The funding body SEEDA’s community consultation and organisation of public meetings a decade ago uncovered a wide range of views culminating in “total disillusionment with establishment” announcements and processes. It became clear that the biggest challenge was to re-create a framework for engagement and positive community support for future regeneration solutions16. Practitioners have told us that ANP’s philosophy has achieved this by being at arm’s length from government-run or contracted services. It is also very important that they take into account the overall immediate setting of users and offering a personalised approach of support with a number of issues that may be presenting an obstacle to entering paid work. For example, problems with family relationships can make work difficult but unlike with ANP, support with this is not typically available on welfare-to-work programmes more narrowly focused on “getting a job”.
ANP Family Learning is a bespoke service to meet service users’ specific needs. The activities are child-centred and include creative activities such as cookery, arts, crafts, painting, drawing, and free play. They often use the “Solihull approach” with a family, which offers guidance on sensitive, effective parenting to help create a better understanding of a child’s behaviour. The support can be delivered at various settings in the community. They do not offer counselling, psychotherapy or therapy.
ANP Family Learning addresses service users by involving every family member. Family learning takes place when family members of all ages are involved together and encourage each other. ANP can help overcome barriers caused by negative associations with traditional or government institutions. This helps to raise aspirations and create a long-term change in the culture of the family and patterns of learning among the service users. However, children and their families need to be willing to make changes, with support.
The combination of adults and children taking part together is crucial in building resilience in families, in creating community well-being, economic prosperity and social cohesion. A basic assumption of family learning programmes is that reaching both generations of service users can simultaneously can help break the “cycle of disadvantage.” In this regard, such programmes are an excellent example of “joined-up” policymaking, in which it is understood that children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development cannot be addressed in isolation, by focusing on the child alone, but the family needs to be involved.
In the past families interested in participating could refer themselves. However, in time there was some perception that the service should target its limited resources on those families most needing extra support. Consequently, access to the service is now through referral from other agencies, followed by an assessment by a team member. If appropriate, four sessions are offered initially, with the possibility of another four sessions if goals have not yet been reached. If a family and child require longer term or more specialist support, they may be referred to a different agency.
75.4. Internal organisation and modes of working
ANP is a VCS initiative that has come from community development workers rather than the local authority. It is not run by outside professionals. The working of the organisation is fairly conventional. Funding originally came from a grant. However, grants are now harder to come by and the project has had to become more targeted. It is innovating by generating income from selling services as a social enterprise, such as cooking and sewing workshops.
75.5. Impact on the governance of local welfare system
Because of the current economic environment for public services DDC do not have resources for new, non-statutory, services. Their support consists of approval, enabling, partnership and facilitation, but not financial support or direct involvement. ANP is very much a bottom-up initiative from the local community. The former miners had a culture and history of trade unionism that meant they were willing to be led by community leaders with a vision, especially when “up against it”. ANP has a genuine use and role outside of council or government-run services. In addition, ANP is not working by contracts, which they have rejected out of concern about penalties if targets not met.