Ofsted and CQC publish review of early life services
A father holding hands with his child. It is a close up of their hands, their faces/bodies are not visible.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have published a joint review of Start for Life services, which provide support for parents from pregnancy until their baby is two years old.

The Start for Life programme, which had its funding announced in October 2021, offers a range of services including health visits, parenting courses, infant feeding, and speech and language support.

Family hubs bring these services together to provide families with joined-up support.

The report was commissioned by the government and is based on research visits to six local areas. 

It found that most families have a positive experience of Start for Life services and highlights many examples of good practice.

Families who accessed Start for Life services said they felt more confident in feeding their babies and had better perinatal mental health.

They also felt that their children went on to achieve better outcomes. Across all local areas visited, there was a consistent and ambitious vision to deliver joined-up services which was well-received by families. 

However, while recognising the programme is still being embedded and local authorities are at different starting points, the report also identifies areas for improvement.

For example, some local areas need to rethink how they advertise the services on offer, as some parents believe family hubs are only for ‘troubled families’ and are not aware of the services available to them.

The report said more support is needed to measure the impact of Start for Life services, including a set a of shared national outcomes, as many local areas find the current reporting requirements too time-intensive. 

Local authority leaders also outlined the challenges of short-term funding, which they feel prevents them from planning provision for longer periods of time.

Ofsted and the CQC have set out a number of recommendations to improve the delivery of Start for Life services, including:

Making sure the programme is made available and promoted to all families, encouraging the government to commit to a minimum level of long-term funding for the programme nationally, as well as establishing a common set of national outcomes, with space for local areas to develop additional criteria to meet local need.

They said central government should also review reporting requirements linked to funding, to reduce the administrative burden on local authorities.

Yvette Stanley, national director of Regulation and Social Care, said: "The care and support a child receives in the first few years of their life helps them thrive throughout their childhood and beyond.

She said the Start for Life services offer families "vital support" to help every child get the best possible start.

"I’m very pleased that many families have had a positive experience using these services.

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