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Bringing together maternity and early years: Sandwell and the EYTA


15 Nov 2019

Sarah Farmer, early years programme manager at Sandwell in the West Midlands, reflects on their involvement in our Early Years Transformation Academy (EYTA), as the programme reaches the halfway mark.

For more blogs from participating EYTA areas, see also: 

Why did you decide to participate in the EYTA?

The invitation to submit an expression of interest for the EYTA came at just the right moment in time for Sandwell. There hadn’t been an effective joint commissioning partnership for some years and there was a strong consensus that this needed to happen.

The creation of the Children’s Trust had removed some of the local uncertainty, giving us a greater opportunity to focus our attention on prevention and early intervention. There was also a new, dynamic senior leadership across the partnership, and renewed optimism after a very turbulent period. The maternity services transformation work was already under way and we didn’t want to miss this opportunity to ensure that maternity and early years commissioning plans were aligned.

What has been hardest?

The biggest challenge has been finding time for our local team to work together on the key tasks between the national meetings. Some of the work can be done by individual team members, but bringing it all together demands a lot of time for joint discussion to reach a shared view, particularly when we are working without an external facilitator to structure the discussions.

What have you learned so far?

In the real world this process is imperfect, not tidy and linear! The work we have already done on our needs assessment has revealed some opportunities for further analysis, so this work will continue in parallel while we refine our theory of change and our intervention mapping.

The content and the tools that have been provided by the EIF have been useful, understanding the levels of evidence, evaluation methods and outcomes frameworks come to mind. Some of this we are beginning to apply already, for example we have redesigned the evaluation of our Best Start service.

Where have you made most progress?

Getting a joint commitment to the academy has been an achievement in itself, and although individual engagement in EYTA team activities has not always been consistent, relationships have been strengthened within the team. The residential experience was an opportunity to bond through group challenges, including testing our model-making and improvisation skills!

We are putting the finishing touches to our outcomes framework: there have been several versions with lots of healthy debate to get where we are. We have a basic, updated needs assessment, and our data and intelligence team are commencing some additional analysis that will ensure that this work will continue to develop and feed into and out of the local JSNA process. We have also made headway with our intervention mapping.

What is your number one priority to achieve by the end of the programme?

We are aiming to have a jointly owned commissioning strategy, based on a shared vision and clear outcomes. During the year we will be starting to redesign services – at the very least we should have a plan for our Best Start service by the end of March with a clear intervention pathway from pregnancy to school reception for our vulnerable children and families.