Start for Life programme

Start for Life services making a positive impact but more can be done, govt report finds

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has jointly published a new report with Ofsted detailing how the Start for Life programme can improve.

The review, which was commissioned by the government, shows that most families have a positive experience with the scheme and highlights several examples of good practice that are making a positive impact on child health outcomes.

“I’m very pleased that many families have had a positive experience using these services,” said Ofsted’s Yvette Stanley, who is national director for early years regulation and social care.

“I hope this review helps local services continue to improve the support families receive in the first few years of their child’s life.”

Funding for the Start for Life programme was announced in 2021 and offers a range of services including health visits, infant feeding, and speech and language support.

As well as the progress, the report outlines a number of key recommendations to help further improve delivery, including to:

  • Ensure the programme is available and promoted to all families nationally, to help remove any stigma over accessing services
  • Commit to a minimum level of long-term for funding nationally, to help further embed services
  • Establish a common set of national outcomes, with headroom for local areas to develop bespoke criteria relevant to their needs
  • Review reporting requirements linked to funding, to help alleviate the administrative burden on local authorities
  • Support local areas to develop joint recording systems to enhance information sharing
  • Bolster the sector so there are enough qualified and experienced health professionals working in tandem with Start for Life staff

The report was based on research from six local areas, which were Northumberland, Sunderland, County Durham, Hull, Torbay, and the Isle of Wight.

Families who accessed the programme reported feeling more confident when feeding their babies and in their perinatal mental health. They also believed their children went on to have better outcomes.

The report highlights that, across the six areas that were visited for research, there was a consistent and ambitious vision to deliver joined-up services, which families were overwhelmingly positive about.

The CQC’s deputy director for multiagency operations, Lucy Harte, explained: “Local health care professionals, working alongside and with other services can make a real difference to the way that children and their families are supported and develop.

“Hearing from families about the value of support they have received is deeply encouraging and a testament to those caring people working in services – the challenge now is to learn from this.”

The Start for Life programme provides support to parents from pregnancy until their baby is two years old, although the report focused on the experiences of families from their child’s conception to the age of three.

Image credit: iStock

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NHE May/June 2024

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