In February 2016, Save the Children secured funding for partners in Wallsend to launch a groundbreaking Children’s Community, and as part of this to establish a strategic, neighbourhood-level partnership between schools, the local authority (family support, housing, public health), the clinical commissioning group, the local voluntary sector, police and the community. The aim is not simply to add to the existing system but instead to strengthen the system itself – to transform the way children and families are supported generally.
Part of our Early intervention into action series of case studies on innovation and evaluation.
The Wallsend Children’s Community is the latest step in the maturation of Wallsend’s integration and collaboration between all local partners. It is focused on supporting children in-the-round: holistic support across their home, school and community lives, and across education, health, wellbeing and so on. This is because different factors in children’s lives interact to enable or prevent them from doing well. The Children’s Community is also focused on supporting children seamlessly through the different stages of childhood because progress made during the early years needs to be sustained and built-on as children get older.
In terms of ‘live’ projects, the Children’s Community is, for example:
- piloting methods for supporting parents to create language-rich home environments
- working with statutory and private preschool providers to better identify and address early language delays
- piloting new mechanisms for supporting children as they transition from one educational phase to another
- introducing school-based counsellors
- overseeing a coordinated programme of out-of-school activities.
Wallsend is one of three Children’s Communities championed by Save the Children nationally (see also our case study on Pembury estate in Hackney, east London). The Children’s Community is modelled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, an innovative sector leading coalition to improve outcomes for children and families in the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City. The Children’s Communities Initiative facilitates the coming together of key agencies within disadvantaged localities to improve outcomes for children. It thus embodies a systems approach to overcoming disadvantage.
Save the Children enables all three Children’s Communities sites to learn from each other and also from the ‘best in class’ of child development, including learning exchanges three times a year and a shared governance structure for the programme as a whole. A three-year evaluation by Sheffield Hallam University is now underway.
What is working well?
- While it is still early days, it is building on a long history of partnership working between schools and then between schools and other services in the area. A growing body of projects are getting underway with a focus on giving children the integrated, holistic support they need to thrive.
What is hard or challenging, and how are these challenges being overcome?
- While collaboration has been a success, it does take effort and focus, particularly when using mechanisms that are not statutory.
- Sharing data from multiple organisations to inform and make strategic decisions can be difficult, particularly in terms of understanding what you can and can’t share.
- In the current environment, finances are challenging. The Harlem Children’s Zone receives significant funding, which is not the case in the UK context. The aim is to bend the funds of the existing organisations, although many of these are having their budgets cut at the same time, which makes this even more challenging.
- Collaboration and partnership are enhanced by making the benefits of joint-working visible to the partners. This supports data-sharing as well. The funding situation is a reality of the context and a key rationale for sharpening and cohering the overall local system for Wallsend’s children and families.
What are the key lessons?
- Partnership working takes time to develop, deepen and sustain.
- There is a lot of data in the system but it sits in individual services rather than under any neighbourhood-level strategic ownership that allows for fine-grained and collaborative analysis and response.
About the evaluation
Outcomes will be developed for each Children’s Community based on the specific theory of change in each area. A data dashboard will be developed to support this. The formal evaluation will look at numbers but also look at the drivers behind those changes – what worked and why.
The evaluation mixes quantitative and qualitative approaches. The data will be mapped to the Wallsend theory of change. Instead of starting from a model of attribution the evaluation will itself aim to build up a model of attribution through understanding perceptions of the counterfactual and ways in which the Children’s Communities model has added value.
What were the conditions of the evaluation?
The aim is to bring together a number of different elements to inform the development of the Children’s Communities model and its implementation, and to add to the field of early intervention evaluation:
- interviews with stakeholders at different levels (see below), participatory methods, observation, documentary and social media analysis
- developing data dashboards bringing together local administrative and other data to enable mapping of progress
- preliminary analysis of costs and savings
- supporting the development of local evaluation capacity.
Changes will be mapped at three levels:
- The local area level: the structures and relationships between organisations, policy makers and change agents within the locale that can provide the circumstances for positive outcomes for children and young people in the area.
- The organisational level: the cultures and processes, leadership and practices of key organisations working to improve outcomes for children and young people.
- The beneficiary level: the experiences of children and young people, and their families, interacting with resources and practices aiming to improve opportunities and outcomes for them.
The evaluation attempts to deliver on three aims:
- to provide rich learning and insight which will support Children’s Communities on their journey
- to develop evaluative tools and approaches for the early intervention evaluation field
- to understand the impact of Children’s Communities on the children and families in their communities, and the features of the model and its implementation through which it adds value.
What is hard or challenging about conducting an evaluation?
- Getting a counterfactual and comparative areas in evaluations of local systems change: the priority at this stage is to have an evaluation that is supporting the Children’s Communities and is developmental.The team has found that each organisation is data-rich but not brought together in a coherent whole to support strategic decisions.
- Ensuring evaluation reflects context in each place: a Children’s Community is a set of principles and approaches which then is taken into a local context and deployed and evolved as right for that local context and local needs.