National Evaluation of Innovative Early Years Skill-Mix Working.

Project outline

The Family Hubs and Start for Life Programme Guidance (DHSC/DfE 2022) recommends increasing workforce capacity and capability through the use of new workforce models that incorporate skill mix. Evidence of the effectiveness of different early years workforce models, however, remains sparse, and this research aims to address this gap. Five local authorities in England, who are existing Start for Life sites, were awarded DHSC funding to develop and pilot innovative skill mix models to complement their Family Hub offers and reach to families with children under five.

Methods and analysis

The evaluation is informed by the underpinning Theories of Change for each site and Social Network Analysis. Baseline mapping of services will involve the analysis of service and management information (MI) in addition to interviews with key stakeholders to map the innovative workforce models and understand how they are being implemented in the five pilot local authorities. We will identify the system-level mechanisms, facilitators and barriers to implementing the pilot models using cross-sectional workforce surveys and desktop reviews of service and MI data. We will examine service user and provider experiences, and the structures that support effective working. Family-level case studies (N = 75) and Social Network Analysis will be used to examine the connections between professionals in the network around individual families, and the impact of those relationships on families’ and professionals’ experiences. Assessment of impact will involve the use of Synthetic Control Methods to establish counterfactual sites with which to assess the impact of the innovative workforce models on key outcomes including the quality and completion rate of the Healthy Child Programme, the 5 mandated health reviews, additional contact points, early identification of need and access to specialist services, safeguarding outcomes, disparities, workforce productivity and caseload, and cost effectiveness. This will involve the analysis of data from both national (e.g. Community Services Data Set) and local (e.g. social services) data. 

Ethics and dissemination 

Ethical approval for this study is being obtained from IRAS. The findings of the research will be disseminated to relevant audiences using conference presentations, and publications in academic, policy and methods journals. We will also hold at least one roundtable session, bringing together civil servants, professional associations, third sector partners, and parent and carer representatives to consider the implications for policy and practice.