Earlylink is a pre-birth to eighteen months weekly home visiting service in Moulsecoomb and Whitehawk which also offers group activities for babies and parents in the community. It was funded through ‘eb4u’ in the absence of ‘Sure Start’ initiative monies which were allocated to the Central and Hollingdean areas of Brighton. \ud \ud The Earlylink service started in September 2004 following consultation with the East Brighton Community. The Earlylink service employs home visitors who have a range of professional and vocational qualifications but who are not part of statutory services. \ud \ud The Earlylink project was evaluated against the objectives set for the East Brighton New Deal for Communities delivery plan which are to reduce stress and isolation and support families, parents and carers resulting in a reduction in the number of vulnerable children. Other nationally recognised areas of importance around health and parenting were also identified as evaluation objectives. \ud \ud We used an outcome based evaluation approach which looked at the impact of the service on those who received it and the interrelationships between the service providers, clients and health care providers. We also used a stakeholder approach to ensure that the evaluation covered the things important to those who delivered the service and the community that received it. \ud \ud We interviewed eighteen East Brighton families to get their view of the service. We also interviewed the Earlylink visitors and health care professionals who were supporting the families. \ud \ud We found substantial evidence that the Earlylink service met local and national agendas for supporting families, parents and carers. It had a positive impact on the local community with many of the gains potentially influencing the future lives of children in Whitehawk and Mouslecoomb. In particular the service was most successful in reducing parental stress and isolation which often manifests in depression. \ud \ud There was strong evidence to show that the support offered by the Earlylink visitors influenced child development and parent-child interaction. These are contributory factors to reducing the number of vulnerable children. The exploration of the role of Earlylink within the combined health and social services illustrates its complementary affect on other services. Mothers have told us that because the service operates in a social mode in addition to the health input, it supports the mother to meet her own needs as well as her child’s needs, which is particularly beneficial. It has enabled mothers to feel cared for and therefore relate better to their children. Research studies show that the quality of the child parent relationship is ‘a powerful determinant of child health and development and well being in adult life especially mental health’ (DH 2005:38).\ud \ud Whilst the move to Children’s Centres will enable new services to be located within the community there is no doubt that without the flexibility and accessibility demonstrated by Earlylink service and its staff, the gains in engaging with some of the harder to reach families will be lost.\ud \ud Department of Health (2005) Evidence to inform the national service framework for children, young people and maternity services. London: Department of Health
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