Promising practice details


C4EO theme: Families, Parents and Carers

Family Journey, Rochdale: improving child and family well-being, through increasing parents’ confidence and ability in responding to children’s needs

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years
  • Families, Parents and Carers
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

    Basic details

    Organisation submitting example

    Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council

    Local authority/local area:



    The context and rationale

    Background details to your example

    Family Journey is a parenting programme (written in manuals) which supports families from the antenatal point until their child begins education. It provides support to parents at 12 age-paced stages, to help them meet their child’s needs. The programme’s messages are reinforced through children’s centre sessions and practical support for the home learning environment.

    The idea
    The idea was to offer a parenting programme beginning at the ante-natal stage and progressing through to entry to school. We wanted to give parents support at key stages of their child’s development on the practicalities of being a parent. At the same time we wanted to develop peer support networks between the parents attending the sessions in order to encourage them to provide emotional support for each other and to strengthen local communities. It had been recognised through an early years’ pilot with a focus on the readiness for school agenda, through the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA), that the earlier parents are supported the better the outcomes for their children and that early help would prevent problems developing and save money in the long term. The sessions would be informative, yet informal, supportive but not encouraging dependency, and would support public service reform. This would be achieved by addressing key issues e.g. child accident prevention guidance to reduce A and E attendance, information to reduce child obesity, and messages to encourage breastfeeding up to 6 weeks and beyond. We were keen to prevent dependency in parents on professional intervention in the home and wanted to give them the strategies as soon as possible to help themselves or to get their own professional help by signposting to relevant agencies. We also wanted the content of the sessions to be written by professionals in the field, to be delivered consistently in a cost effective way, and to address the particular needs of the communities within the Borough. Since the children’s centres in Rochdale provide the location for all ante-natal and post-natal care, they were chosen to be the location for the delivery of the programme. A parenting programme, Family Journey was created by a range of professionals and delivered in Rochdale from 16 April 2012.

    We were aware that many children were assessed at the two year health visitor check and then not formally assessed until the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP). Since nursery is not currently a statutory provision, unless issues are identified by health visitors when they complete the Schedule of Growing Skills (SoGS) assessment at two years old, potential development gaps in children may not be identified until the child begins school. Children’s centres were seen as being the ideal provision to launch a parenting programme supporting parenting skills and also impacting on the learning and development of children. Since the introduction of Family Journey we have become involved in work on an integrated eight stage assessment model which is being developed across Greater Manchester through AGMA.

    Learning from the EPPE research was applied that showed ’what parents do is more important than who parents are’ and it was recognised that there was also a need to impact on children’s learning through the home learning environment and the quality of parent/child interaction.

    Knowledge Base
    We were aware from the Total Place work in Sandbrook that there is a high level of transience in this area of Rochdale, for example in one school year on average 10% of children leave during the academic year and 13% are new arrivals. This is indicative of the movement of families into and out of the area. The Leksand model (DfE/DoH, (2011). Supporting families in the foundation years) was used as the foundation for the structure of Family Journey. One important adaptation was that we recognised the need in our community to extend the organised offer beyond the child’s first birthday to the time when the child starts school in order to give the child the very best start and also to best serve the transient local community. The Leksand model was 'designed to replace the lost ‘extended family’ around a newborn' so once again fulfilled an identified need for our parents. The Leksand model has all the elements that we recognised we needed to include in our Family Journey:
    • To build up cohesion in groups
    • To improve parental knowledge
    • To increase knowledge and awareness of children’s needs
    • To increase parental knowledge and awareness of support services.

    Evidence Base for the Family Tracker Sheet
    The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education Project (EPPE). A longitudinal study funded by the DFES 1997-2004.
    The home learning element of Family Journey is securely based on the strong evidence from the EPPE research. This found that ‘aspects of home learning environment experienced by children during the preschool period continue to show significant positive effects on attainment and social behaviour at age 7 years plus.’ (page 43). These home learning aspects include ‘frequency parents reported reading to child, teaching songs and nursery rhymes, painting and drawing, playing with letters and numbers, visiting the library, teaching alphabet, teaching numbers.’ (page 50). All these elements have been included in the Family Tracker Sheet introduced at the core sessions and reinforced and assessed weekly at linked sessions.

    The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS). (Tennant, et al., (2007). Health and Quality of Life Outcomes).
    The WEMWBS scale links well to two of the aims of Family Journey, and is already used by some health practitioners and community champions in Rochdale, so is the ideal tool to measure well-being and use as an evidence base for the programme. See

    The ORIM (Opportunities, Recognition, Interaction, Model) Framework (Hannon, P. (1995). Literacy, home and school: research and practice in teaching literacy with parents)
    The ORIM framework identifies ways that families can help develop their child’s early literacy skills through skilful interaction and experiences. These interaction skills are included as prompts for parents on the Family Tracker Sheet and discussed by key practitioners as part of Family Journey. See

    Families and Schools Together(FAST)
    A natural progression for Sandbrook School in Rochdale, following the AGMA Total Place pilot was to identify parenting support for the families involved to continue their journey through school. In April 2012, FAST was introduced.

    Where FAST works with the family, school and community to support and nurture the child and family, Family Journey gives parents the confidence, motivation, knowledge and well-being to support their own child, build a peer support network and independently access appropriate support. Family Journey offers parents all the skills, knowledge and well-being to access programmes such as FAST in the future and to engage with their child’s school from the very beginning enabling that important link between home and school to thrive. See

    Other research influencing and used in developing the programme were:

    Cabinet Office (2011). Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers; a strategy for social mobility.

    Layard and Dunn (2009). A Good Childhood.

    Bowlby, J. (1951). Attachment Theory, Maternal Care and Mental Health, World Health Organisation.

    The knowledge from a range of evidence from research was applied to identify the aims of Family Journey:
    1. To increase parental knowledge and ability to respond to their child’s needs through:
    • offering advice and support at key stages in their baby’s/child’s development
    • impacting on the quality of the home learning environment with a strong focus on the prime areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage: Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Communication and Language and Physical Development
    • encouraging continued engagement with early years support at children’s centres.

    2. To improve outcomes for children through:
    • improving parents’ confidence and ability to support their child
    • encouraging calm, loving care in the home
    • building the attachment between parent and child
    • offering a forum for parents to discuss their concerns
    • supporting parents to recognise the normal challenges of parenthood
    • providing the opportunity for parents to talk to other adults and avoid feelings of isolation
    • providing advice on accident prevention in the home
    • providing guidance on health issues e.g. food and nutrition, oral health etc
    • Signposting to specialist services available for parent and/or child as appropriate.

    3. To develop parental skills, well-being and connection to the community through:
    • providing the opportunity for, and encouraging, friendship networks to develop
    • encouraging parents to independently access community amenities e.g. parks, leisure, libraries
    • building parental confidence in services and organisations and thereby improve engagement e.g. children’s centres, schools
    • improving parental resilience
    • at an appropriate level of need, enabling parents to access services and professional support independently
    • encouraging parents to improve their own skills and move onto volunteering, education, training or work, if they choose.


    The practice

    Further details about the practice

    At the outset a Group was established which involved Sure Start team members and a range of partners including:
    • Sure Start Team Leader
    • Advisory Teachers
    • Children’s Centre Managers
    • Early Years Advisor
    • Health Visitor
    • Midwife
    • Nutrition and Dietetics Team
    • Family Learning Service
    • Family Information Service
    • Family Worker
    • Speech and Language Therapist input through advisory team.

    The role of the Group was to oversee the writing of the Family Journey sessions and to write and suggest additional materials to support home learning, child accident prevention, and healthy eating for example, to ensure fidelity to the theoretical base and evidenced based outcomes.

    All the sessions were written by the most appropriate professional service and each service was given the opportunity to deliver the sessions themselves. Some services chose to deliver, some chose to write the content and train children’s centre Staff to deliver.

    The sessions were piloted at Sandbrook Children’s Centre in order to evaluate the content, the parental response and the organisation of the programme within the centre’s timetable.

    A number of minor issues were raised during the early days of Family Journey and developments made to improve the programme. See Appendix 3 – Issues Raised available from the C4EO team at the NFER

    The pilot also identified some more in depth development needs of the programme. It became evident that the Core sessions needed a consistent format in order to give the group opportunities to engage and interact with their child and as adults; opportunities which would impact on the Family Journey outcomes. A Core session format was introduced.

    Once the 12 Core sessions at three monthly intervals were established, the content, format and delivery of the Linked sessions became the focus of the group. We ensured that there were age-appropriate sessions available for families as part of the core offer in children’s centres in order to encourage the engagement of the Family Journey families. We could monitor and influence the home learning environment, parental confidence and peer support opportunities through the Family Tracker Sheets which would be collected by parents throughout the journey and stored in their Family Journey folder.

    Several options for the delivery of Family Journey were discussed. The programme could be offered:
    • In one centre in each of our advisory board clusters;
    • At one centre in each of the advisory team quality cluster areas;
    • In all centres with the accommodation and staffing levels to accommodate.

    Since all integrated centre managers were keen to deliver a parenting programme to their community, it was decided to offer Family Journey in 14 children’s centres across Rochdale. A timetable was developed to ensure that in each geographical area a range of sessions was available each week, this allowed for the signposting of parents to another children’s centre in their area if the session they needed was not available in their nearest centre. See Appendix 4 – Overview Timetable available from the C4EO team at the NFER

    Programme deliverers were identified and training offered on the philosophy of the Family Journey programme along with session specific training ensuring that the key messages of the session were consistently delivered. A Training Manual accompanies the programme and includes an initial briefing, training for the Family Journey lead and an update. See Appendix 5 – Training Programme available from the C4EO team at the NFER

    The Family Journey programme requires excellent organisation and preparation. Children’s centre administration staff were briefed on their role in supporting Family Journey by sending out invitations to families with children of the appropriate age (using data supplied by the children’s centre data team), keeping registers, monitoring attendance and evaluations and ensuring the smooth organisation of rooms, crèche facilities (when necessary) etc.

    The programme is quality assured following the Quality Assurance Manual guidance which also sets out requirements of settings proposing to deliver Family Journey. See Appendix 5 – Quality Assurance Manual available from the C4EO team at the NFER

    Development of Family Journey
    Rochdale Sure Start has worked closely with partners to build on professionals’ skills and knowledge and ensure that Family Journey is securely established.

    Approximately 350 families attend ante-natal appointments each week in the Rochdale area. Since 2008 all ante-natal care has been delivered at children’s centres by midwives and local GPs. It was evident that this was the ideal opportunity to begin our engagement with families on their journey. In 2012 an agreement was made with the midwifery team to sign up expectant families to the first session of Family Journey. Since the first session of the Journey is an ante-natal session this became a routine part of ante-natal care and education.

    Universal Offer
    Securely founded on the evidence based success of the Leksand model, the Family Journey parenting programme is a universal offer. It is offered to all parents through ante-natal appointments, children’s centre registered families’ list, visitors to the centre, liaison with local schools and signposting from partners: for example, midwives, health visitors, family support, social workers. We are in the process of developing a referral system where attendance at Family Journey will be a requirement for particular families as part of their CAF or child protection plans.

    Parents access the sessions at their local children’s centre but, if the date or time is not convenient to them, they can be signposted to the same session elsewhere in a children’s centre in the Rochdale area and can be assured that the session will be the same.

    The universal approach of the programme enables families to meet in a relaxed, supportive environment which encourages attendance and participation. Any families who may benefit from further services will be approached discreetly by the facilitator of the session and made aware of, or signposted to, services or support that is available.

    The Family Journey philosophy is based on the development of strong peer support networks being created through the structured Family Journey sessions, starting at the ante-natal point and reinforced through the core offer in children’s centres. There are some examples in practice of parents being required to attend sessions specific to their immediate needs. Families who have not accessed the programme from ante-natal can join the Journey anywhere along the pathway.

    The intention is that parents will gain in confidence throughout the Journey and this will empower some parents to volunteer to deliver or co-deliver sessions, take on a parent leader role in the children’s centre or become community champions to support local families.

    Content of the Programme
    Family Journey consists of 12 structured core sessions for parents at approximately three monthly intervals (see diagram below). The sessions have been written by key professions in each field, for example, midwives, health visitors, nutrition and dietetics team, advisory teachers with support from speech and language therapists and are delivered by a range of Sure Start staff and partners. See Appendix 6 home learning, family tracker available from the C4EO team at the NFER

    Family Journey


    Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

    Evidencing your practice has made a difference to children, young people and families

    The following table links outcomes to the aims of Family Journey and identifies evidence to support the programme.

    Aims and outcomes

    To date the success of Family Journey has been measured through parent/carer evaluations at the end of each core session. The adults are asked to score themselves against a confidence scale of 1 to 4 at the beginning and then at the end of the session.

    An example is shown below of one session’s evaluations, ‘Bonding with Baby’, showing the number of adults and their scores at the beginning and end of the session.

    Session and Eleement

    Below are some of the comments made by parents:
    • Breastfeeding – the baby can take milk from both breasts
    • Bonding – how important it is to start this from day one
    • Skin to skin straight after birth
    • Babies can stay on milk till 6 months
    • Talking and singing to your belly
    • Stimulation
    • Weaning at 6 months
    • Routines to match myself and baby e.g. eating, bathing, sleeping
    See Appendix 6 – Early Communication Evaluation of Family Journey available from the C4EO team at the NFER

    Below is an example of the Family Tracker sheet that is used in the linked sessions by parents to track their child’s development against the EYFS with a strong focus on raising communication and language skills. It has the facility to add a photograph of the child which personalises the document and provides a record of the child’s growth in the Family Journey folder.

    FTS Side 1

    FTS Side 2


    Sustaining and replicating your practice

    Helping others to replicate your practice

    Sustaining practice
    In order to maintain the practice we will sustain the following organisational elements:
    • Family Journey Manual
    • Training of all involved
    • Quality assurance programme
    • Self-sufficiency within Children’s Centres
    • Review meetings.

    As Family Journey developments are the result of monitoring, evaluation and reflective practice the programme will continue to develop as necessary.

    Costs and benefits
    Family Journey is in the early stages of development so there is little evidence to demonstrate the cost benefits of delivering the programme. It is expected that the benefits will be delivered through:
    • Signposting families to available amenities and services which will empower them to become more self-reliant.
    • Family Journey will lead to the early identification of families in need and allow effective referral of these families ensuring early intervention. This will reduce the need for more intensive support later.
    • Self-service by families accessing services in the Centre, within local community – reduced home visits, improved community resilience.
    • Impact on the home learning environment, EPPE recommendations – improved school readiness of children, reduction in need for interventions in school. There is national research which equates the cost of a child with poor literacy skills to between £5,000 and £60,000. The cost of an intervention programme to raise a failing child’s literacy to a ‘good’ level costs around £2,600 per child. The impact of Family Journey on the home learning environment should improve outcomes for children, including raised literacy skills which will have a cost benefit in the future.
    • Improved family well-being through peer support, and professional support offering health benefits to the whole family.
    • Freeing up of resources in some hard stretched services so that professionals can spend more time on families in need of more intensive support in the home.

    The challenges to the implementation of Family Journey in Rochdale were:
    • Ensuring commitment and understanding of the aims of the programme across all agencies involved. This was solved by the multi-agency steering group and dissemination of key messages by leads.
    • Identifying cohorts of families with age-appropriate children. There are large data banks of registered families and it became very expensive to invite all of the families by post. We solved this by inviting all families with an email address by email and targeting a specific target group for example, lowest Level Super Output Area and single parents as identified by the individual children’s centre. This gave ownership to the centre and allowed them to work towards their centre goals.
    • Referral of families into Family Journey became an issue. As awareness of Family Journey grew across professionals within the Borough for example, social care, health visitors, parenting team, family workers, they began to refer families onto the programme. This was seen as a positive ‘challenge’ as it allowed us to access some of our more vulnerable and more hard to reach families. The difficulties identified with this were that sometimes deliverers of sessions were not aware of the circumstances of these particular groups and why they had been referred. Some parents attended whose children were LAC which required sensitivity in managing the script and messages which are highly child focused. A recommendation of some referrers was that parents attend all the Family Journey sessions – whilst this was also seen as valuable, it meant that parents were attending sessions aimed at children younger or older than their own. This is being solved by awareness raising meetings across all agencies involved to ensure that they fully understand the programme and to ensure that the Centre concerned is aware of individual circumstances in order to best support the family and deliverer. A challenge linked to this is the need to develop a procedure to feedback to the referrer on the engagement of the family. If Family journey is going to be promoted as a system to improve outcomes for families and children then quality engagement with it is crucial.
    • How to continue engagement of, mainly mothers, returning to work following maternity leave has been identified as a challenge. We are in the process of developing an email package which will allow the key messages of Family Journey to be shared at the relevant stages with these families. Speech and language therapists have been commissioned to support staff in the private, voluntary and independent early years and childcare sector to develop children’s speech, language and communication. This work will build on the home learning benefits of Family Journey, as parents return to work.

    In Rochdale we have multi-agency commitment to Family journey through the Early Help Strategy. Family Journey is a regular item on Children’s Services Senior Manager Meeting agendas. The multi-agency steering group, with membership from Children’s Services, Sure Start children’s centres, Health – health visitors/midwifery/nutrition and dietetics/speech and language therapy team, Family Support Manager, advisory teachers, Family Information Service, and the Parenting Team, has ensured strong commitment across early years in Rochdale which can only benefit children and families.

    Family Journey has also been written into the Health Visitor Specification by the Commissioning team as a key part of the Readiness for School lead group feeding into the Children’s Trust. Family Journey has been developed through the Early Intervention Grant.

    Family Journey programme is written in manuals and therefore would allow easy replication of the core sessions in other authorities. The Family Journey linked sessions could be developed by utilising the sessions already delivered in the children’s centre as part of their core offer. This would enable all families attending these sessions to benefit from the Family Journey key messages to support the home learning environment and adult skills.

    Developments for the future
    In the future, Family Journey could be expanded to families accessing early years’ childcare through private providers. Elements of the Journey – the sessions aimed at children moving onto school have been delivered to staff teams in private providers and to parents of children attending early years’ settings.

    C4EO Golden Threads
    The Family Journey programme links closely to the following C4EO Golden Threads.
    It takes a community to raise a child – see the bigger picture.
    Culture not structure – learning together.
    Unite to succeed – the right support at the right time.
    Shape up and keep fit – learning together.
    You can do it – promoting resilience.
    Know your communities.

    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. Ones that apply to this example have been emboldened.
    i. openness to possibilities
    Knowledge of gaps in the children’s centre delivery and failure of some families to re-engage with the centres following the birth of their child led to frank discussion and a solution focused approach to address this. The following elements of Family Journey resulted:
    • partnership working across a range of professionals – midwives giving first “appointment” to Family Journey - steering group
    • age paced core sessions, relevant to the family
    • linked sessions to encourage continuous engagement
    • tracking impact on families through home learning environment and well-being

    ii. the ability to collaborate
    The Steering Group formed to lead on Family Journey included a range of professionals. Members of the steering group were also representatives on Lead Groups reporting to the Children’s Trust. This ensured that the work of the Steering Group was consistent with the Strategic plan for early years in Rochdale.

    iii. demonstrating a belief in team and people
    The members of the group recognised the need for flexibility in order to ensure maximum benefit for families whilst maintaining professional standards through supporting staff delivering sessions.
    • Membership of steering group, midwifery, health visitors, nutrition and dietetics, input from speech and language therapists, teachers, centre leaders, early years advisors, family learning service, family information service
    • Members are also on the Readiness for Schools lead group, FAST trainers, Local Authority moderation team, Speech, Language and Communication group.

    iv. personal resilience and tenacity

    v. the ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
    It was crucial to ensure that all partners and staff involved in Family Journey understood the aims and organisation of the programme. This was achieved through a range of information sharing sessions to:
    • Total Place group
    • Readiness for Schools and Narrowing the Gap lead groups
    • Speech Language and Communication Needs lead group
    • Rochdale Association of Primary Head Teachers
    • Children’s Centre Strategic groups
    • Family Learning Service
    • Parenting Team
    • Children’s Centre managers and staff.
    As a result of these sessions developments were made to the programme and further developments will be made as it progresses.

    vi. focusing on results
    In order to ensure maximum impact on families and to evidence that Family Journey is making a difference to families, assessment systems have been devised.
    • Home learning tips for parents linked to development matters of the EYFS.
    • Parents tracking sheets to record their child’s development, with the choice to track family well-being.
    • Programme (written as manuals) to deliver Family Journey, supported by Training programme and Quality Assurance systems.
    • Family Journey supported by regular multi-professional steering group meetings to evaluate, improve and develop.

    vii. the ability to simplify
    The ability to simplify is well demonstrated by the overall sequence and coherence of the Family journey programme by distilling all aspects of the child and family’s progression into one single consistent programme.

    viii. the ability to learn continuously
    The Family Journey programme is continuously developing as a result of the robust feedback systems in place. These are evidenced in the following documents:
    • Family Journey Manual
    • Training and Quality Assurance Manuals
    • Quality provision document
    • Feedback from deliverers
    • Parents evaluations
    • Data supplied by Data Team
    • Steering Group.

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