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On 14 and 15 May we held our annual Parent Champions Conference and Awards, a chance to come together as a network to reflect, connect and celebrate the inspiring work done by Parent Champions volunteers in their communities this year providing vital information to parents all over the UK. This year, the schemes that make up the Parent Champions National Network have more than doubled the number of families spoken to – with over 50,000 families being supported! This is an incredible achievement, and highlights the dedication and hard work of the 43 schemes and 300 volunteers.  

We kicked off on Day One with some inspiring speakers and workshops. First, Dr Sarah Drummond, Director of The School of Good Services, talked us through co-designing services that work, and the role parents can play. Sarah was given an honorary doctorate from the Glasgow School of Art for services to design in 2019, awarded a Google Fellowship for her work in technology and democratic innovation and was named as Good magazine’s 100 extraordinary individuals tackling global issues in creative ways for CycleHack, an initiative to reduce barriers to cycling. She talked about strategies to make services more accessible, more friendly, and more relevant.  

Next, we heard from Millie Chancellor, who is a Trainee Clinical Psychologist at University College London and part of our Parenting & Creative Therapies team here at Coram. The Parent Champions role can be demanding, and so we invited Millie to present on the topic of self-care, giving us a better understanding of the context, meaning, and ideas for our own unique approaches to preserving and improving our health and the volunteers. It was a great way to recognise Mental Health Awareness Week, happening at the same time. We finished off following Millie’s guided relation practise, focusing on breathing and the gradual relaxation of our muscles.  

After that moment of calm, we offered attendees a choice of workshops to attend covering relevant research and practice.  

Parent Champions Norfolk shared with us their experiences working with refugee communities. Their inspiring work working with families from Ukraine gave us all lots of ideas to take away. The team in Norfolk recruited volunteers from the community, provided accessible training with translation, supported refugee families with childcare and school, and held community led events driven by the volunteers. We were struck also by the team’s future plans, including linking up with Family Hubs and libraries across Norfolk, lining up a roster of summer activities, and arranging a Family Fun Day for Ukrainian families, in association with the Ukrainian Men’s Group. We will watch this space for more exciting development in Norfolk! 

Isha Sohal and Maria Sciara from the Department of Education took us through an overview of the new early education entitlements. They also focused on what the expansion might mean for families who already have access to funded early education for families receiving support. They gave us practical things to watch out for to ensure that the families we work with are accessing the support they are entitled to, as well as providing an opportunity for attendees to share their experiences of supporting families on the childcare entitlements. We know that Parent Champions are such an effective way to connect to families, and access services, so we were really grateful to Isha and Maria for sharing their guidance in the changing early years landscape.   

After lunch, Professor Kate Hardy then also discussed the expansion of early years entitlements, but from a delivery perspective. Kate is a scholar of work and employment and at the University of Leeds has produced research which looks at the working conditions and experiences of those currently working in the early years sector and those who have recently left. The research team gathered nearly 1,000 surveys and 60 participants in interviews and focus groups. It aims to better understand the conditions of the current early years workforce, the implications of the extended entitlement and what is needed to ensure any expansion of access can be successful, while ensuring the high-quality places that children deserve. 

Claire and Jade from Parent Champions Wrexham shared their practices for connecting with the community. Through this, their team have increased connection with the asylum seeker and refugee community, the Black African, Polish and Eastern European communities, and families with children with additional needs and disabilities. We learned about their experience hosting Autism Acceptance Week in Wrexham, and how they are monitoring their impact. Finally, Rob, Farah and Linda from Parent Champions Kingston and Richmond shared their lessons learned from setting up a SEND Parent Champions Scheme. Rob and Farah were able to speak from personal experience, as they are both parents of children with SEND, and both work part-time as they are the main carers of their children. Their scheme focuses on reaching out to SEND parents, making parent voices heard, and recruiting SEND Parent Champions. The workshop covered practical ways to achieve all of these aims, as well as a focus on how to support SEND Parent Champion volunteers. We really appreciated the frank insight into the challenges, as well as the insights about what works well. This was all enriched by the perspective of Linda, a volunteer for the Kingston and Richmond scheme.  

The next morning we met again for some reflections on the Parent Champions National Network. This was an opportunity to look back on the year just gone, plan for the year ahead, and connect with each other. We heard from Coreen, Kimberlin, Jennifer and Farwa from Parent Champions Lambeth, who gave us an update on what they’ve been up to since their big win of Scheme of the Year this time last year. We finished off the morning session by splitting into groups to reflect on what worked in our schemes this year, and planning ahead for the exciting things to come over the next twelve months.  

To end the conference, we celebrated the impressive achievements, commitment and hard work of the Parent Champions up and down the country with our annual awards ceremony. You can find out about all the nominees and winners, and their stories, here. It is always one of the most exciting and inspiring parts of our year. We are so thrilled to be a part of the Parent Champions network, and it is such a pleasure to meet together like this once a year. We’re looking forward to the year ahead and the crucial work that the Parent Champions will do.