We are here to support, promote and develop voluntary and community action in Middlesbrough

We need to get prevention back on the agenda!

If I’d known then what I know now!

A few of us at MVDA were having one of those ‘I wish I’d known then what I know now’ conversations last week. We, parents of now adult children, were recounting the very real, and unchanging struggle of parenthood in the context of our awareness of the many things we’ve got wrong with our kids. We shared some things we probably don’t admit too often and things we certainly wouldn’t admit beyond the bond of our developing friendship as colleagues.

The good thing about our connectedness though, is that whilst there was a knowing between us of things we know have negatively impacted our kids, things that have become part of parents’ stigma and which limit openness and honesty, because we are human and parenting is hard, we were also able to move quite quickly towards a focus on the hundreds of things we had done well, the positive impact we’ve had on our kids and just how well, on the whole, they’ve turned out as adults.

That conversation got me thinking about my work, much of which is focused upon children and families and the passion I have for supporting those VCOs that have given their focus to supporting children and families to experience life as the best it can be.

What’s the impact of parenting advice?

Part of the discussion mentioned above did veer towards just how much information, advice and guidance/opinion is now available to parents so how is it that so many families are still struggling and end up in crisis? Parenting courses, Children’s Centres, specialist teams, specialist workers even Super Nanny (is she still around?!) all offer the information, advice and guidance parents need, right??

So why do local (and national) statistics highlight that there is a real crisis in our families? Looked after children, domestic abuse, mental health, substance misuse, educational attainment and lack of aspiration amongst a wide range of other difficulties is the context in which so many of Middlesbrough’s families’ focused VCOs operate. So why are most of our VCOs crisis focused and who is delivering work around prevention?

What happened to prevention?

I haven’t got the answer and I suspect you don’t either! These questions are too complex for us to answer on our own because people are complex and the issues in families are complex. The communities and the context in which people live are multi-dimensional and need thinking through in collaboration with a wide range of people, including parents themselves, who have something valuable to contribute to our understanding of these issues.

Having spent the last two years working on a project around early help support for families I’d say one of my contributions to this dilemma is the delay and the fragmentation that currently exists in the system. Put simply, and probably because of the funding climate we find ourselves in, prevention is not high on the agenda and support is offered too late and most often, only after the needs of a family have become risks to a child. Look out for our report on the learning from our work in the previous Middlesbrough Early Help Hub coming soon.

A call to action

Many of you who work with children and families will be aware of our work focusing on prevention. I’ve been talking about it for a while, MVDA is aiming to develop a VCS led approach and community offer to prevention in the context of children and families.

The VCS is only one part of the wider system with a role in supporting Middlesbrough’s children and families but we are well placed to connect at a grass roots level with families to collaborate around what’s not working, why it’s not working and to identify and offer what the VCS does best, innovative yet ‘not rocket science’ contributions. If you’re interested in this work please do contact me at tracey.brittain@mvdauk.org.uk

Tracey Brittain


Senior Strategic Development Officer