By Sophia Worringer
The Family Toolbox Alliance in some ways are living every charity’s dream – they have a long-term funding contract from Wirral Borough Council, a Local Authority that trusts them and does not burden them with unnecessary paperwork, and a coalition of seven small, local charities that work closely together towards a common goal. This unique arrangement allows the Alliance to meet the extraordinary challenges found in Wirral, particularly in Birkenhead, where 35% of residents live in deprivation, where more children are persistently absent from school than is the national average and where there is a difference in life expectancy of 11.8 years between its poorest neighbourhoods and its wealthiest – only 11km away.
The Family Toolbox Alliance is a coalition between seven charities working with families, children, and young people across Wirral. All the services are universal and are available to all parents and carers in the area with no thresholds or referrals required. The founding members (Caritas Shrewsbury, Ferries Family Groups, Foundation Years Trust, Involve Northwest, Koala Northwest, Shaftesbury Youth Club and WEB Merseyside) offer a wide range of support from youth clubs to parenting support, from trauma training to therapeutic interventions and practical support for domestic abuse survivors.
The Family Toolbox Alliance has only been up and running for a year but already Wirral Borough Council have reported a 27 percent decrease in the number of cases going to their Early Help Service. Further metrics are to come, but part of the model is not being too bogged down in intrusive data collection to focus on frontline delivery and building trusting relationships with the community. Already the impact has been widespread, over the first 12 months of operating nearly 8000 individuals have been helped by the Family Toolbox Alliance services.
The CSJ visit to the Family Toolbox Alliance, at their community hub in Birkenhead, provided important insights into how strong collaboration between voluntary services and local government can improve outcomes for even the most struggling families. We met mums who had been struggling setting boundaries as parents but who had found support and confidence through the peer support groups. Some of their children had been school refusers and this is the top reason parents ask for help after visiting the Wirral Family Toolbox website. (This ties into findings of the recent CSJ report Lost But Not Forgotten that found there are 140,000 children across the country who are out of school more than they are in school.) One young man said he had noticed a significant increase in his mother’s calmness and that her mental health had improved since she had started attending the parenting support group.
As well as in person services, peer-to-peer groups and a community space including a beautiful creche, the Family Toolbox Alliance is pioneering an innovative approach through its website. The website has a wealth of self-help tools and information about local services. It also allows parents to create a personalised account and track what materials they engage with.
Our visit to the Toolbox also showed some of the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 lockdowns. All seven of the charities had seen an increase in mental ill health and behavioural difficulties in young people, delays in speech and language development and an increase in addictions especially to vaping. As the Social Justice Commission continues its enquiry into what life is like for the most disadvantaged across the country, we are building up a picture of the long-term impacts of Covid, as well as gathering the best solutions we can find that create change.
The Family Toolbox Alliance is definitely an example of one of these great solutions. The close working of the charities that make up the Family Toolbox Alliance means that families can seamlessly move from one service to another without having bulky and slow referrals. Programmes are also service user driven and community members work closely with the charities to identify key issues that need addressing and propose ways to tackle them. Finally, Wirral Borough Council understands the unique opportunity for small charities to come alongside families in a way statutory services never can and most importantly the Council trusts them to get on with the job. The Family Toolbox Alliance is doing something special in Wirral, others would do well to also visit and learn.
The Family Toolbox Alliance is part of the CSJ’s own Alliance, which is a national network of over 500 poverty-fighting charities. We are incredibly grateful for their support and the time taken to share their brilliant work, teams, and community members with us.
If you would like to join the CSJ Alliance, please get in touch by following this link.