How council library services can support children and families in the earliest years

Friday, 5 August, 2022

In the spring of 2022, the Local Government Association commissioned consultant peers to review library services in eight councils, specifically with regard to how they worked to enhance the local early years offer and, in particular, support for speech, language and communication development. The work was supported by The Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL) and Libraries Connected.

Executive summary

Each council had access to peer consultants for between five and eight days. In this time, strategic meetings, user and non-user and partner focus groups were set up, as well as background reading to identify strengths and recommendations for how libraries could become more closely connected with early years services, health and partner agencies working towards the development and delivery of family hubs.

The work was supported by The Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL) and Libraries Connected.

It was identified that there is much work that already takes place within council library services to support children and families in the earliest years, as well as partnership working across council and health partners. It was identified that there are existing strengths in how libraries already work to support the following areas:

  • pre-literacy skills including speech, language and communication development
  • mental health support for adults and children
  • reducing social isolation and creating networks / friendships
  • access to information, skills development and learning for adults      
  • delivering area-wide messages and support from the council, health and social care partners 
  • engaging with ‘under-served’ communities, families and individuals    
  • libraries used as a community resource.

Examples are provided within the report about the current successful work taking place in the councils that were involved in the mini reviews. Each council provided a case study which appears in appendix 1. Additional case studies from different areas are included in appendix 2.

In addition to the successful current work, the peer consultants identified, for each council, areas that could be developed further. Across the eight councils, there were recurring themes that were then noted as recommendations for closer connections between library services, early years and family hubs. These included:

  • involving libraries in planning for the development for family hubs  
  • clarifying the library offer
  • communicating the offer to families        
  • aligning strategies with key partners.
  • responding to families’ needs
  • demonstrating impact       
  • recognising libraries as part of the local speech and language pathway  
  • considering library staff as part of the wider children’s workforce within the council.

The mini reviews and their associated reports were very much appreciated by the councils that took part in the process. Participants identified how the process helped shine a light on the successes of libraries and explore closer work with councils, health and other partners working towards the family hub agenda. Many opportunities arose during the mini reviews to start conversations with partners that had not taken place before.

In addition, network meetings were set up for those councils involved in the programme. These were found to be extremely beneficial for all taking part. They provided an opportunity to share good practice and to discuss and problem solve difficulties faced by individual or groups of councils.

The full report can be accessed on the LGA website