Following the lockdown of educational and childcare services in March, think tanks and educators alike have predicted the widening of the attainment gap for disadvantaged children. Growing Minds has quickly responded, adapting the project to offer the best support to our families during lockdown, and planning for a more challenging future.

Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, OCF’s Growing Minds early years partnership is continuing to engage a growing cohort of families in a variety of interventions. This includes 77 families who are now receiving support from Growing Minds (38 families in Berinsfield, 39 in Littlemore). Seventeen local professionals delivering personalised support to disadvantaged families have been trained through Growing Minds.

However, since lockdown children and family centres, schools, nurseries, birth registrars and health visitors have been unable to provide face-to-face services, running only minimal support (if any). In line with government guidance, Growing Minds partners were forced to cease in-person contact, including running groups and home visits.

The Growing Minds partnership quickly used its existing infrastructure and networks of relationships to provide what families needed most at this time:

  • Personalised support from trusted practitioners by phone/online platforms
  • A new guide to online resources for young children
  • Weekly newsletters to families with inspiring home-learning activities
  • Peep group sessions that were adapted to work in an online format
  • Continued deliveries of monthly Imagination Library books to families
  • Links with new and emerging community support to deliver a broader range of support amid lockdown (e.g. hot meals, food parcels, prescription pick-up, nappies etc).

Growing Minds Project Manager Suzy Donald reports that although challenging, the crisis has presented a learning opportunity for the partnership: “It has shown more than ever that the relationship between parents and early years professionals is key to providing effective and engaging support – and is even more important for struggling families who are isolated. During this period our practitioners have maintained regular phone contact with families needing additional support, and through the partnership have been able to refer them to appropriate services.

“The situation has also made it clear that some families struggle to engage with online sessions due to a number of factors, so we are adapting our delivery to provide smaller, more personal online groups where trust can continue to be built.”

The Growing Minds partnership has agreed that it is now imperative to better understand the impact of COVID-19 locally, as well as which services make the biggest difference to families. It has therefore been agreed that a qualitative study on this subject will be conducted with Oxford University’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention. This will help the partners understand more about how families have used online support, and to bring the learnings into their own interventions, broadening the Growing Minds offer and accessibility going forward.

Our new video outlines the Growing Minds methodology and deliverables:

Since COVID-19 hit, OCF has continued to support the Growing Minds delivery partners as per their initial funding agreements. We remain grateful for those who have helped secure the funds needed to deliver the initial year of Growing Minds, and continue to look for like-minded philanthropists to help us secure delivery over the coming years, particularly in light of the unprecedented challenges brought about by COVID-19 – a time when investment in tackling educational inequality has never been more needed.

You can donate online to the project here, or contact Suzy to discuss further.