A healthy outlook?

Maggie Fisherton of the Early Childhood Forum explains why children's centres are working more closely with health visitors...

In the last decade health visiting has been subject to many changes, and the number of health visitors has fallen dramatically, resulting in a much diminished service in many areas. Like teaching, health visiting has seen a large increase in ‘skill mix’ (i.e. the combination of skills available across different parts of a health service). Meanwhile, there has been a huge rise in the numbers of families a health visitor may be responsible for, to the extent that the average health visitor is responsible for over 500 families, and some over 1,000. Surveys conducted by the Family and Parenting Institute and Netmums highlighted the fact that the universal health visiting service was fast disappearing.

In response, the Government introduced the Health Visitor Implementation Plan, which committed to increasing the numbers of health visitors by 4,200 by 2015. The plan is a four-year transformational programme of expanded and refocused training, recruitment and retention, professional development and improved commissioning, as part of an overall plan to improve public health.

In July 2011, the Department of Health and Department for Education jointly published Families in the Foundation Years and Supporting Families in the Foundation Years as the Government’s overall strategy and offer for families in relation to the Foundation years. This strategy includes a leading role for health visitors in delivering the Healthy Child Programme, and identifies integrated working as the way forward. The work of children’s centres and the successful models of integrated working that have emerged from their work will inform the Health Visitor Implementation Plan, and early implementer sites are piloting new ways of integrated working that will lay the foundations for a strengthened and improved service for children and families.

The Early Childhood Forum (ECF) is a coalition of 60 organisations that promote the wellbeing, learning and development of young children, their families and practitioners. ECF is hosted by the National Children’s Bureau. For further information, visit