Emerging practice details


C4EO theme: Early Years

A Journey to Change – Children’s Centres moving families forward, Blackpool

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

    Basic details

    Organisation submitting example

    Blackpool Council

    Local authority/local area:

    Blackpool Council


    The context and rationale

    Background details to your example

    ‘Journey to Change’, a parental self-assessment tool developed within the Children’s Centre Payment by Results trial. The tool enables Blackpool’s Children’s Centres to measure parents’ progress across six key areas - motivation, aspirations, relationships, self-esteem, ability to manage money and making the best use of their time.

    Context and rationale
    Blackpool’s Children’s Centres were receiving Outstanding and Good at all their Ofsted Inspections but they were aware that collating and collecting data on some of the ‘softer’ outcomes for families was a challenge. They knew they were doing everything they could to support the very vulnerable families they worked with but how could they prove it?

    The Local Authority (LA) set to work to see how it could support its Children’s Centres to collect this data.

    In July 2011, Blackpool Local Authority’s application to join the Children’s Centre Payment by Results trial was successful. The trial was an opportunity and catalyst to explore the development of robust outcome measures that support the Children’s Centre Core Purpose and to address the challenges in implementing Payment by Results for a preventative service.

    As part of the trial, various National Measures were explored and feedback from the local authority was sought. One of the original proposed measures was ‘parents self-reported aspirations and self-esteem’. This measure was not taken forward as a National Measure due to the lack of being able to collect these outcomes in robust data i.e. to pay out on the results nationally, and the considerable resource that would be required to collect it.

    However, it was a measure Blackpool wanted to look at try to collect. It was felt it was important to explore this locally as we knew from case studies that an improvement in parents self-reported aspirations and self-esteem supports the improvement in outcomes for young children and their families.

    In consultation with parents and Children’s Centre staff, Blackpool developed a ‘Journey to Change’ self-assessment tool. The tool was designed to enable Children’s Centres to measure parent progress and also for parents to see their progression over time across six key areas - motivation, aspirations, social networks and relationships, self-esteem, ability to manage money and making the best use of their time. An appendix showing one of the six areas on the ‘Journey to Change’, and a sample of the distance travelled, is available from the C4EO team at the NFER.

    ‘Journey to Change’ has made it possible for Blackpool’s Children’s Centres to track the small steps that lead to longer term outcomes. Importantly, the tool has also supported parents with self assessment and taking control and ownership of their own Journey to Change.


    The practice

    Further details about the practice

    Before developing the ‘Journey to Change’ self-assessment tool, existing tools to measure soft outcomes were considered. However it was felt there was a need to develop a bespoke tool to meet the specific needs of Blackpool’s Children’s Centres and their families. As the sixth most deprived area nationally, we felt that we needed something that would support our most vulnerable parents and we also wanted the parents to be part of the development so that they too had ownership. An overview of soft outcomes/informal learning measurement tools by a consultant informed the practice as the tool developed.

    The tool was drafted and then further developed in consultation with a multidisciplinary Learning Strategy group which included representatives from Children’s Centres, Adult and Family Learning. Parental consultation was arranged with the Children’s Centres and a number of parents gave their feedback. The parents particularly shaped the design of the tool.

    The parental feedback was very positive and they said they felt it would work well on a one to one basis and liked the structure of the progression up the scale. Originally the picture card used with the ‘Journey to Change’ tool depicted a road going up and over a hill and represented a journey. However the parents felt that this picture did not reflect their community. Based on this feedback the picture was changed to a picture of Blackpool Tower and represented a journey to the top of the tower.

    The ‘Journey to Change’ tool consists of six picture cards for each of the areas with ten statements on each. The progressive statements are marked 1 to 10 and the parent is asked which statement best represents how they are currently feeling, for example, Aspiration scale one - ‘I don’t have anything to aim for’ to Aspiration scale ten - ‘I feel able to set future goals for my family’.

    An Excel spreadsheet was created to capture the progress made by parents and displays the results as figures and in a graph format (see Appendix 1 Distance travelled available from the C4EO team at the NFER. The graphs are a very visual way of sharing and showing parents where their strengths and areas for development are. They can also easily see their progress across all the areas. The spreadsheet also enables the Children’s Centre to collate the interventions put in place and the family’s level of need.

    Guidance and training for the tool was drafted, explaining that the Children’s Centres will support parents to complete the self-assessment every six weeks. As transience is an issue in Blackpool, the guidance also explained that when a family moved to another Children’s Centre reach area in Blackpool, the ‘Journey to Change’ must be transferred to the appropriate Children’s Centre to ensure the parents’ progress can continue to be monitored. The guidance also recommended that Children’s Centres reassure parents that people will start in different places on the 1 – 10 scale and that they will move both backwards and forward along their ‘Journey to Change’ as their situation alters.

    In order to ensure those families in greatest need were included in the trial, Children’s Centres were asked to identify parents from the bottom two most deprived Lower Super Output Area profiles in the Children’s Centre reach area. Children’s Centres identified appropriate parents and began to implement the tool.

    During the Children’s Centres’ Annual Conversations, each Children’s Centre was set a target to support at least five families who had to progress by at least 25% each. It was felt that a target for each parent, rather than a joint target for all five, reduced the risk of cherry picking families and so creating a perverse incentive.

    The ‘Journey to Change’ tool was trialled for eight months and we started to see real success. Centres reported that families enjoyed seeing their progress and many for the first time felt that they were making a difference to their family.

    It became apparent that there was a need to link the Family and Adult Learning courses to the ‘Journey to Change’ to support the progression and interventions needed. A multi-agency approach to learning in the Children’s Centres had been developed with Family and Adult Learning, Health, Speech and Language Therapy and Children’s Centre staff all delivering courses and training at a variety of levels. It was felt that this training needed to be collated and put into a structure which offered progression for parents to support their child’s development and for them to move onto accredited courses, volunteering and work.

    Many parents were just attending many similar courses and did not progress onto further learning and Centre staff could not provide the advice needed to support their learning journey. The multi-disciplinary Learning Strategy Group met and listed all the training and learning courses that were delivered for families. The group produced the Opening Doors model which consisted of four doors behind which are different options and listing all the training available but put it in a structure and progressive format. Alongside this, a Learning Passport was designed, again in consultation with parents, as it would be their passport to learning. The aim of the Learning Passport is to support parents to take control of their own learning and provides them with a clear pathway for progression. The Passport is the parent’s record of achievement in learning and they can see how much they have achieved and get advice on where to go next.

    The Opening Doors and Learning Passport were designed to complement and build on the ‘Journey to Change’ tool. In this way, Children’s Centre staff could encourage parents to use the ‘Journey to Change’ tool to self assess where they were over the six areas and then see which courses and learning the parent should access to ensure they received the support they needed. For example, if the parent scores themselves lower on managing money they are supported to attend the budget management courses on the Opening Doors pathway.

    Despite the Payment by Results trial coming to an end, Blackpool’s Children’s Centres will still be using and developing the ‘Journey to Change’ tool and Learning Passport to support their families.


    Achievements so far

    Further details on your achievements

    For the past year, all ten Children’s Centres in Blackpool have been trialling the ‘Journey to Change’ tool and successfully measuring ‘softer’ outcomes.

    A Children’s Centre Ofsted inspection report recently commented:
    From very low starting points parents’ confidence and willingness to improve their life chances and learning opportunities are embraced by many. The newly established ‘Journey to Change’ programme builds on aspects such as motivation, managing money and effective use of time. Early outcomes show participants are more confident and able to identify further skills they require to become job ready. (Claremont, Sept 2012).

    Initial feedback on the ‘Journey to Change’ tool from the Children’s Centres was that the tool took longer than expected to complete. This is not necessarily a negative as the Children’s Centres reported that the ‘Journey to Change’ tool generated a lot of conversation around key topics such as finance. A number of Outreach Workers commented that on completing the tool with parents, previously undisclosed information such as financial or relationship issues came to light, and they were then able to offer support to the parents.

    Feedback from parents:
    “I have found this both helpful and positive to my life, it has been interesting to see how my life changes so much and how this affects my emotions I have enjoyed having the chance to think about how I am feeling and not just my child or family. I think it’s easy to get lost under the pressure of daily life and just stopping to think simply about key factors, broken down into bullet points was very beneficial.”
    “I feel I have become more focused over the past few months, gained employment and begun a Degree. I’m sure that knowing there are people who care about how I am feeling has helped. I would recommend Journey to Change to anybody."
    • Relationships – “I have moved away from socialising with people who didn’t have children and were going out all the time. I am now friends with people with children.”
    • Meaningful use of time – “I am going out doing activities with the children instead of staying in the house all the time.”
    • Managing Money - “Without the help and support from the children’s centre I wouldn’t be where I am now. Especially with financial matters.”

    A Children’s Centre Deputy Manager reported that ten parents were involved in both the ‘Journey to Change’ and the Learning Passport trial. Within a five month period, four of those parents had successfully moved into volunteering or employment. The Deputy Manager felt the ‘Journey to Change’ process had supported the parents to focus on their own pathway to employment and that the ‘Journey to Change’ and the Opening Doors and Learning Passport had accelerated their progression, provided the parent and Children’s Centre staff with a structure and given the parent ownership of their own destiny.




    Other details

    One initial challenge was that often parents did not recognise where they were realistically on the ‘Journey to Change’ scales and often thought they were a few steps ahead of where they actually were. At first Children’s Centre staff accepted what the parents said and placed them where they assessed themselves. Training and support was offered to staff to provide them with the skills to appropriately support, challenge and discuss with parents what the scales actually meant. This had to be done sensitively to ensure the parent still had ownership of the final scale.

    Parents must recognise their own competences or lack of, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. Initially there was a dip in Journey to Change scores as parents realised that they had scored themselves too highly at the start. This was factored into the targets set for the Centres and staff were encouraged to support and challenge parents in order for the self-assessments to be as realistic as possible.

    One Children’s Centre found that parents were able to complete more realistic self-assessments when the numbers (1 -10) were removed. By looking at the statements (10 in each of the 6 areas) and by choosing those that they felt reflected the current position parents were able to self-assess without worrying if they were getting a low number. The staff could then transfer this to the spreadsheet and still obtain the data that was needed.

    Identifying appropriate parents is a key action to the successful implementation, as initially Children’s Centre staff identified a few inappropriate parents’ comments and scores and the tool was ineffective. This is particularly the case if the parent does not wish to engage or want to progress. The tool is designed for parents who would benefit from support in the six areas and parents who, with the support of their Children’s Centre, would be on the pathway to employment. The tool is less effective when used with a parent with complex problems, such as Mental Health, as other interventions would be required before the parent is ready and able to move toward on this pathway.

    As well as capturing quantitative data, it was felt equally important to capture qualitative data. Therefore each Children’s Centre was also asked to record case studies. The case studies proved useful in showing the parents journey and progress. However we also wanted to capture the impact the parents progression had made on their children. Therefore a case study template was drafted to enable Children’s Centre’s to capture this.

    As parents were involved in designing and shaping both the ‘Journey to Change’ tool and the Learning Passport, the tools are parent focussed and reflect Blackpool’s local needs. Continuous consultation and parental feedback has been extremely useful during the last year and has contributed to the success of the Journey to Change and the Learning Passport.

    The Local Authority and Children’s Centres have learnt that it is possible to collect data that had seemed impossible and for it to be meaningful for families. The families have really benefited from the one-to-one support in a structured format and have felt empowered by their ability to take control of their own lives.

    Payment by Results funded the development time and printing costs but the project was run using current and existing resources in the Children’s Centre. Once developed, the process was subsumed as part of the Children’s Centre staff role.

    Core leadership behaviours
    The following eight core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL. Those that apply to this example are emboldened.

    i. openness to possibilities - Children’s Centre Managers had to be open to possibilities and a new system. They were aware that there was a need to collect this information and it needed to be in a format that was useful for them and the parents. It also needed to measure outcomes. This was a new resource and it was up to the managers to ensure that the staff implemented it effectively.

    ii. the ability to collaborate - There was a need to work collaboratively with other services and the parents. The project would not have worked or have been as successful had the Children’s Centres not worked jointly with the families or Family and Adult Learning. The outcomes were to everyone’s benefit and so, by working together, they were able to influence the change and reach positive outcomes.

    iii. demonstrating a belief in team and people - The Local Authority had to have belief that the Children’s Centres could implement the system and deliver the goods. They took the time to engage with all stakeholders (including parents) to gain their commitment to be able to implement the change of process. The LA knew there was a need to see if this data could be collected and set off on a journey with the other stakeholders to develop the process.

    iv. personal resilience and tenacity

    v. the ability to create and sustain commitment across a system - The commitment of all stakeholders was key to this success. The LA took the time to engage with all stakeholders (including parents) to gain their commitment to be able to implement the change of process. The LA knew there was a need to see if this data could be collected and set off on a journey with the other stakeholders to develop the process together.

    vi. focusing on results - The results were important to the successful implementation of this project. However, at the beginning, the outcomes for families was secondary to getting the process right. If the process was not right the positive outcomes for families would not materialise. Once we felt confident with the process and had gained staff commitment, the outcomes for the families was paramount.

    vii. the ability to simplify

    viii. the ability to learn continuously - The process and actual tools have been developed over time with feedback from all stakeholders. This will continue as we use the tools for longer and Centre staff and parents use it more. The knowledge and skills of all those involved was invaluable in leading the development of this project.

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