Assessing the impact of a family support project

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28th Jul 2012

It looks and sounds like a pre-school play group. But in fact, it is a well-disguised project to battle poverty and disadvantage in families in north Cambridge. When it started 18 years ago the Kings Hedges Family Support Project was way ahead of it’s time: focusing on helping parents to be actively and positively involved with their children’s learning and development, addressing families’ needs as a whole, and dealing with practical problems directly. The range of issues the project helps with is astonishing – from healthy living to table manners, and from domestic violence to baby massage to help depressed parents bond with their babies.

I was asked to prepare a report on the impact of the project. My aim was to involve parents in different ways so that age, education, language and culture were no barrier to contributing. The only time to meet with parents was during the play group – once a week. So, with about 120+ parents and children all around busy playing games, singing, having lunch and chatting, I had to engage a few people at a time. I sat in the sun in the play yard and worked there with a group of young mothers, wrote out post it notes for others who were less confident in spelling, and involved older children in writing their own comments. As people told me their life stories and how the project had helped them, it was sometimes hard not to get caught up in the emotions: a diagnosis of autism given over the phone, a family far away, homelessness, debt. The project is a place of sanctuary and friendship.

Not only parents and children, but also statutory partners, staff, and committee members all had a say. The statistics are impressive and easy to convey. Even the savings made in preventing social problems can be costed somehow. What was far harder was how to put across the so called ‘intangible’ impacts of the project: feeling loved, making friends, a sense of belonging, not being judged, and being able to make a contribution to others. For many parents, this is how the project had transformed their lives.






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