Through parent surveys and virtual focus groups with Southend practitioners, who have been working with families during the pandemic, the research team will gain a strong insight into the challenges families are facing, including those unique to A Better Start Southend communities.
The research, involving the University’s Centre for Social Work and Social Justice, will then help inform the response to COVID-19, as well as how families can be supported during the recovery process.
So far, the focus groups have returned some interesting results, and it is clear the story is never the same between families. For some, COVID-19 has had an impact in areas such as food poverty, domestic violence and behavioural challenges in children. However, it is clear the pandemic has provided opportunities for families, allowing them to spend more time together and strengthen the ever-important bonds between parents and children. This research will continue to help the partnership formulate the most effective response during the restoration period after the pandemic is over.
Jeff Banks, Director of A Better Start Southend (ABSS), said: “Research and evaluation is a key component of A Better Start Southend and I am delighted we are able to greatly strengthen our partnership with the University of Essex in this area. The work that Professor Vasilios Ioakimidis and the team at the Centre for Social Work and Social Justice will do will positively impact on the lives of families as we test and learn our wide range of activities.”
Professor Vasilios Ioakimidis, Founding Professor of Social Work and Director of the University’s Centre for Social Work and Social Justice, added: “I am very pleased to work collaboratively with ABSS to look at the hugely important issues surrounding children’s emotional, social and physical development. Generating knowledge through research and evaluation is a key aspect to this partnership. Our positive relationship with the strategic partners allows us to be responsive to current challenges and design innovative research streams such as the study on the impact of COVID-19 on practitioners and families.”
In March 2019, ABSS began an exciting new chapter when it transferred its evaluation activities to the University’s Centre for Social Work and Social Justice, at the School of Health and Social Care.
The National Lottery Community Fund programme is a ten-year test and learn programme aimed at transforming the lives of children in Southend, providing innovative projects and activities for children under four and expectant parents in six wards across Southend.
The programme focuses on the key developmental outcomes around improving children’s diet and nutrition, their speech, language and communication and their social and emotional development, working with strategic partners, including the University, to achieve this. An important aspect of ABSS is to conduct research, evaluate service delivery and generate knowledge, and with the University now on board, the Partnership is set to make real progress in these areas.
A Better Start Southend is part of A Better Start, a programme set up by The National Lottery Fund Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. A Better Start works with families so they play an active part in deciding on and designing the
services and support they get so they can give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier.
The six Better Start areas in Southend are Kursaal, Milton, Victoria, Westborough, Shoeburyness and West Shoebury wards.