Growing Minds is an ambitious, collaborative project, bringing together experienced organisations and tried-and-tested interventions to improve school readiness and support young children’s life chances. Oxfordshire Community Foundation created the Growing Minds project, launching it in Littlemore and Berinsfield, two income-deprived communities in Oxfordshire, in January 2020, and working with 277 families in these two areas by April 2022.
Growing Minds is delivered by established local service providers from education, health and family support. In April 2022, the leadership of Growing Minds was taken on by a partnership of third sector organisations who were involved from the start: Peeple, Home-Start Oxford and the Berin Centre. Growing Minds was made possible by Our Common Good and is supported by a consortium of donors.
Growing Mind’s birth to school pathway illustrates the joined-up approach to working with families with babies and children under five. It includes:
60 free book for each child to keep, delivered once a month from birth to age five, via the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. This has helped not only to engage new families, but to support their confidence and enjoyment in sharing books. All families surveyed reported doing this on a weekly or daily basis. Growing Minds families had received a total of 3,533 Imagination Library books by April 2022.
Sharing initial information with families via people and services that they already have contact with, such as midwives, birth registrars, nursery nurses and health visitors.
Developing responsive and flexible relationships with families, ensuring that their most urgent and basic needs are focused on first. The extraordinary pressures that families have faced during the pandemic led to an increased need for both financial and mental health support. HomeStart Oxford visit families at home and develop trusting relationships, offering practical support, as well as signposting them to specialist support services and/or other community groups.
Peep Learning Together sessions – incorporated into groups, home visits and/or Stay and Play sessions, for parents and carers with their babies or young children. The Peep sessions share information and ideas with families that support their child’s learning in day-to-day life. 92% of the parents surveyed reported doing more things with their child that they learned about in the sessions, and 91% felt more confident supporting their child’s learning and development after attending groups. Another important aspect is the further strengthening of relationships – with practitioners in their local communities where sessions are held (such as the Family Centre/ Hub, church, pre-school and school, which can include transition/ school-ready sessions), and also with other families, providing on-going friendship and support for each other.
Staying in touch between face-to-face sessions, via online newsletters, WhatsApp groups and a closed Growing Minds Facebook group for each area.
using the growing minds model in other areas
The model could also be rolled out in other areas of Oxfordshire and beyond. The flexible and collaborative approach has enabled the project to adapt to the various challenges of the pandemic and social distancing.
The key elements that would enable it to successfully be used elsewhere are:
A preventative, early intervention approach – conversations starting at or before birth, and sharing tangible resources
Evidence-based interventions – Imagination Library books, Peep Learning Together groups, one-to-one support for more intensive or tailored assistance when required
A collaborative, local community, partnership approach – building on and extending existing relationships with and between services, professionals and families, from birth.