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Creating Play and Learn Together groups

Home Start Bracknell Forest (HSBF) has been helping disadvantaged children & their families across Bracknell for over 27 years. We are a preventative service, supporting families before they reach crisis point.

Throughout this time, we have established strong working relationships with the other services supporting families in Bracknell including health visitors, midwifes, GP's, Early Help Teams, Family Hubs and other charities, who refer families into our service.

Bracknell Council acknowledges the positive impact of HSBF early intervention work and contributes towards the cost of our service. We work to complement the statutory provision in our local community. Working in partnership with local statutory and voluntary sector services we form part of a network of support for Bracknell families. Our small staff team of 4, is able to respond flexibly to changing needs, has 25+ years’ experience working for Home-Start.

We applied to the Innovation Fund because we wanted to enhance our existing support offered to struggling families living in Bracknell by developing a new ‘Play and Learn Together’ Family Group.

The group (which launched in March 2022) is aimed at young children, under 3, and their parents living in Bracknell Forest who have been disadvantaged due to the lack of opportunities to play, socialise and learn as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. The pandemic’s impact on infants/babies has left them disadvantaged, by not having exposure to normal social situations and organic experiences. Due to the lack of social and developmental environments such as baby/toddler groups, opportunities to learn, socialise with their peers, developed cognitive/fine-motor skills and essential skills including holding a pencil, sitting a in group and opportunities to learn to manager their own emotions have been missed.

At the weekly group, a newly recruited Co-ordinator, supported by trained volunteers, develops and delivers a programme of activities specially designed to enhance the child’s socialisation, communication, and cognitive development. Structured activities including story-time, craft play, singing, snack-time and role-play, supports the child to learn key social, emotional, and behavioural resilience when playing with other children and develop the skills required in preparation for education settings. Additionally, caregivers are encouraged to continue establishing positive role modelling, fun games and activities learnt in the group within the home setting.

Through building closer contacts with the child development team we have been able to invite speakers and guests to attend the group who provide support, advice, and up-to-date information to parents on various issues such as brain development, good dental care, healthy eating, child safety and sleep routines and looking after ourselves. Families are referred to the group via our existing local partners, including health visitors, Early Help, statutory and non-statutory organisations, families may also refer themselves.

We have seen a significant increase in the number of self-referrals into our service over the last 18 months from new parents as they struggle to come to terms with the traumatic experiences of becoming a new parent in lockdown, having little access to services and information and having no access to friends and family support. Through accessing Home-Start Bracknell Forest group the caregiver and child will have increased confidence to independently explore and access local services and activities reducing family isolation.

One parent said "I am so impressed with how this group is set up, it is so accessible to all, it’s great"