- Families helped to understand and recognise impact of trauma on child development
- Delivers activities through a network of children's centres as well as outreach work
- Digital support service offering help and advice available for families to access
Set up last year by the council in response to a rising demand for these services, Family Support aims to improve joined-up working for those supporting vulnerable families.
The service has been specifically designed to help understand and counteract the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and how they impact on a child's brain development.
It recognises that most children and young people in the borough receiving intensive social care packages or in contact with the criminal justice system will have experienced early life trauma.
Family Support has two main objectives: to provide universal services to support children within the first 1,000 days of their life; and to mitigate the impact of early life trauma rather than manage the behaviour caused by it.
The service, which comprises activities run from a network of children's centres, also provides outreach work in local schools and the community. Drop-in play sessions, summer holiday clubs, English classes and breastfeeding support are routinely offered.
Referrals are made through a partnership with children's services, explains Stephanie Brooks, manager at Family Support, adding that families also come through children's centres and a Family Support helpline run by a group of administrators.
Staff triage families in need to decide if they can be helped by Family Support or if high-risk factors mean they should be referred elsewhere.
Sessions are mainly focused on children from birth to five but are flexible during holiday periods to extend to older children up to the age of 10 if necessary, she adds.
"We use different approaches to get the family involved and to think how trauma informs how the brain is made," says Brooks.
"We get parents to think about how to prevent trauma and, if it happened to them, how they might be affected and how it impacts their children."
The concept that parents affected by their own trauma might not be aware how this could impact their own families has informed a new project launched by the service.
Using the ACE questionnaire, it identifies parents who have suffered early life trauma to support them in understanding their own lived experiences. Brooks says the project is being offered to pregnant mothers or those with a baby aged from six months.
"There's a lot of research into how parents' ACE scores affect their children and by having these conversations, we can put early prevention support in place," she explains.
In partnership with the NSPCC, a new model, Look, Say, Sing, Play, is being rolled out at Family Support's children's centres to help parents and carers create positive experiences for their children. It uses activities designed to improve children's language, social and cognitive capabilities which in turn help prevent and tackle childhood trauma.
Family Support works closely with child and adolescent mental health services as well as local schools to help older children. In particular, the digital support offered to schools aims to combat issues such as attendance which are impacted if a child has experienced trauma.
Brooks says the service helps families to understand the impact of "toxic stress" on their own relationships and behavioural issues.
Peter Watt, Family Support's managing director, says the project's first year has seen "significant progress" in delivering in-year savings and improving the quality of services.
He says service levels have been maintained and, in some areas, grown, such as children's centres opening every week day.
"We make decisions quickly; so for instance we were able to step in when a local school planned to close its out-of-hours kids club," he explains.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council has pledged an additional £3.3m, which will maintain 16 children's centres and create two new youth centres.