What is Child Friendly Leeds?

Author: Child Friendly Leeds

When we launched our Shaping Us campaign, Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales visited Leeds, to talk to people there about early childhood. Here, the team at Child Friendly Leeds write more about the work going on in the city to put children at its heart.

Since its launch by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, Child Friendly Leeds has been working to make Leeds the best place in the UK for children and young people to grow up in. This vision was based on the global movement of child friendly cities initiated by UNICEF and underpinned by the UN Convention of the Right of the Child.

We believe that if we invest in supporting children, young people and their families now, we will see immediate and longer-term social and economic benefits for the whole city. We have set out three clear behaviours which shape all of our work: 

  1. We listen to the voices of children and young people. 

  2. We work with families rather than doing things to them, for them or not doing anything at all.

  3. We constantly challenge ourselves by asking if what we’re doing is making a difference? 

The voices and views of children and young people are at the heart of making Leeds a Child Friendly city.

Our vision is their vision; it was set by listening to ideas of thousands of young people to develop 12 wishes for making Leeds a better city to play, learn and grow up in. Celebrating our tenth birthday in 2022, we captured the views of 80,000 Leeds children and young people to refresh these 12 wishes to reflect top issues and priorities for a new generation.

Our Journey so far

Leeds has been on an impressive journey of improvement over the past twelve years. Leeds Children’s Social Care was rated by Ofsted as ‘inadequate’ in 2010 and we have worked hard as an authority and a wider partnership to transform our Children and Families services. We were delighted to achieve an Ofsted judgement of ‘good’ in 2015 and ‘outstanding’ in 2018 and again in 2022. 

Child Friendly Leeds has been a key part of our improvement journey, by harnessing energy, lived experience and expertise across the city to answer one question:

"What is it like to be a child or young person in Leeds and how can we make it better."

We’ve seen many positive outcomes from our Child Friendly approach, including a safe and appropriate reduction in the number of children and young people being taken into local authority care, more young people going into education, employment and training, and better school attendance. By embedding restorative practice (a way of working to resolve conflict and prevent harm) beyond local authority children’s services and into partner agencies across the city, through the Family Valued Programme, the number of children on Protection Plans was reduced by nearly 50% between 2011 and 2017. 

Since 2017, Leeds has been a Department for Education Partner in Practice, offering support to other local authorities. The Leeds Relational Practice Centre (LRPC) was established to co-ordinate this sector-led improvement work and has since expanded to include Leeds’s Strengthening Families Protecting Children (SFPC) programme. In recent years Leeds has been working with a number of other Councils on Child Friendly initiatives and to promote the voice and needs of children.

We firmly believe that progress has been possible in no small part because the Child Friendly Leeds ambition has given us a single, unifying vision that people and organisations from all backgrounds can get involved in. It has benefitted from cross-party political support and from a huge amount of goodwill and enthusiasm across the city and beyond.

Children and young people at the heart of change

In all our work, we listen to what children and young people tell us is important, enabling them to have a voice and influence change.

In 2017, Child Friendly Leeds worked with partners to run a city-wide arts and design competition, asking children and young people their free or low cost ideas for making the city centre more welcoming for them.

This covered five themes: safety, transport, people, activities/events and physical environment. A fantastic partnership, involving many of the young winners, helped to turn these ideas a reality. We were delighted to win the first National Leadership Award for Public Services, in recognition of how the project led to an increase in playful spaces and activities for families across the city. 

We continue to run regular competitions and consultations with partners, to give children and young people the opportunity to have a voice and share their ideas. More recently, during the pandemic, we invited children and young people to produce the ultimate personal well-being kit. We’ve also supported young people’s voice and influence across the city in many other ways including Leeds Children’s Mayor, the UK Youth Parliament, Leeds Youth Council, SEND Youth Forum and Youth Summits. In addition, numerous new community and issue-based youth voice groups have been established to provide young people with opportunities to be active citizens and make a difference.

The annual Child Friendly Leeds Awards showcase the diverse talent, significant achievements and energy of the city’s children and young people, as well as highlighting and celebrating those people, places and organisations that are dedicated to making Leeds a Child Friendly city. The awards are particularly special as every aspect of the awards are organised and delivered by children and young people.

Working together to give children the best start in life

Early Start

Early Start is a core part of our Child Friendly Leeds ambition. This is an integrated approach of key services working together effectively, supporting families from pregnancy up to the child’s fifth birthday so that children have the best possible start in life. This comprises health visitor service practitioners and children’s centre practitioners working together in fully integrated teams which are aligned within local clusters and based in health centres and children’s centres across the city. The Early Start teams work closely together with GPs, midwives, schools, nurseries, community nurses and youth service in local areas, delivering services such as health, childcare, play, early learning and development to meet the individual needs of children and families; the vision being “To provide the right services in the right place at the right time.”

The integrated model helps families to play a positive role in their child’s development through reducing social isolation, promoting wellbeing, increasing parenting capacity, and supporting access to training and employment. Support includes the city-wide offer of Preparation for Birth and Beyond, Baby Steps, HENRY, moving onto solids, play and stay development groups, and targeted preventative support for families with more complex needs.

This local integrated approach and focus on prevention and early years has seen multiple benefits, one being Leeds bucking the national trend and reducing reception-age child obesity rates. Our use of the HENRY approach, primarily offered from the city’s network of 56 children centres which serve more deprived families, is considered to be the key to why children in our most disadvantaged areas, who are at greatest risk of obesity, have primarily benefitted. The research collected through the National Child Measurement Programme between 2009 and 2017 showed that obesity levels in Leeds fell from 9.4% to 8.8% in reception-aged children, while levels remained unchanged in similar local authorities (9.8% - 9.8%) and for England as a whole (9.5% - 9.4%).

Early Help

Early Help is also a collaborative approach in Leeds, with local agencies working together effectively on a whole range of social, health and educational issues when providing support to children, young people and their families. All agencies in Leeds see early help as part of our ‘day job’ and work to the following early commitment:

“We will provide help and support to those who need it without delay. By establishing positive and trusting relationships with families, we will work with them to identify what they need to address their particular concerns and problems.”

The Child Friendly Leeds approach enables everyone to play their part and it is everybody’s responsibility to identify and address these needs. An example of how we use Early Help in Leeds is our cluster model in localities. Clusters bring together universal, targeted and specialist services for children and families in each local area including schools, health services, Early Start teams in children’s centres, police, social work, the third sector, and other relevant partners and services. By working in partnership, we promote and deliver the ‘Level 3 Early Intervention Qualification’ in partnership with Skills For Justice. Five cohorts have undertaken the qualification from across the including the police, health, youth service, schools, care leavers team and cluster staff, which has been reported as ‘inspiring and insightful’. The partnership approach here led to several Early Help Hubs, which ensure seamless, co-ordinated and effective early help support and a ‘getting it right first time’ response.

Working in partnership

Child Friendly Leeds ambassadors

Since our launch in 2012, over 750 businesses, organisations and individuals have joined our campaign to make Leeds a Child Friendly City.

Our Child Friendly Leeds ambassadors play a pivotal role in helping to deliver our ambition and include dynamic individuals from businesses, charities, schools and other public sector bodies. Each ambassador makes a pledge to help create opportunities for children, young people and their families.

Over the last five years, we have held ambassador events focusing on child poverty, care leavers, climate change, domestic violence and abuse, and developing a child friendly city centre. Ambassadors have shared how useful and informative they find these events. They value the opportunity to network with other organisations, hear from children and young people, and gain a better understanding of the key priorities for the city and the challenges they can support us to address.

“I am the project worker for Young Lives Leeds Forum and attend the CFL forward planning group meetings, over the last 12 months I feel that the relationship between the third sector & CFL has strengthened and that by working together we can continue to improve the lives of children & young people across the city."

— Ann Crossland, Young Lives Leeds Forum

Our ambassadors and partners make a real difference to the lives of the most vulnerable children and young people in the city. This includes supporting children and young people who are in the care of the local authority, as well as care-leavers, to access a range of fun and meaningful opportunities that support their aspirations, learning and personal development. From free tickets to arts, culture and sporting events to projects run in partnership, a range of opportunities are provided for young people. Every year we have a Christmas gifting initiative in which ambassadors, such as shopping centres, law firms and banks, help to provide gifts for children and young people.

“It’s a ‘win-win’. The children of Leeds benefit from the involvement of local businesses whilst the businesses get a chance to give something back. Staff feel fulfilled, have a greater sense of engagement in the workplace and a stronger commitment to their employer.”

— Arena Group Ltd

Child Friendly Leeds also supported the Food Means Home Project. One of our ambassadors, The British Library, was introduced to the council’s Children’s Social Services team and worked closely with young and unaccompanied asylum seekers in the city. A group of 29 young people were brought together to cook and learn about each other’s lives before they arrived in the UK. Their recipes were curated into Cooked with Love: World Recipes Without Borders – which was then gifted to foster families.

The healthy holidays programme has involved working with partners across the city to enable a wide range of free fun activities and a nutritious meal for children and young people during the school holidays.

"We have enjoyed playing our part as a CFL ambassador throughout 2023 and continuing to deliver fantastic success for families in Leeds together with the CFL team through projects such as the Leeds Jurassic Trail 3 and once again encompassing the Healthy Holidays scheme. We look forward to achieving more through our excellent partnership work in 2023".

— Martin Dickson, Head of Marketing Leeds Business Improvement District

The importance of play

In striving to become a Child Friendly City, we recognise the importance of play for children and young people. One of the ideas from the city centre competition was to launch a festival led by children for children. We host this annually on National Play Day to promote all things play and promote the fantastic things on for children and young people.  

Leeds has also invited community and voluntary sector providers to apply for the Play Enabling Grant. This has supported inclusive and sustainable play projects and activities within local communities, with a particular focus on meeting local need for play provision during school holidays. 

We are also a trailblazer for Play Streets, winning a national award in 2018 in recognition of its red-tape snipping approach to enabling residents to apply to turn their street into a play zone.

A Play Street allows children and young people to enjoy themselves outdoors even if they are unable to access a park or playground in their neighbourhood. It involves closing a road to traffic for a couple of hours, often once a month, so that neighbours can connect and children play together in a safe traffic-free space.

Baby Week

In 2016, we worked in partnership with the NHS, Children Centres and the voluntary sector to launch Baby Week. Baby Week is now a registered charity and hopes to celebrate nationally in 2023 with an annual conference and hundreds of events and activities for a wide range of professionals, families and babies.

Baby Week provides a valuable platform to promote the best start for every baby born, opening the doors to cross sector working and enabling us to listen to parents and carers to enhance the way we work in maternity and early years. It has even led to a Baby Week forest, where we planted a tree for every baby born during 2020.

Looking to the future

While we’re proud of our progress, we know there is always more to do. Our future plans will continue to focus on the five outcomes in our children and young people’s plan. We want all children and young people to be safe from harm, do well at all levels of learning and have skills for life, enjoy healthy lifestyles, have fun growing up and be active citizens who feel they have a voice and influence.  

There is always lot’s happening in the world of Child Friendly Leeds and here’s how you can get involved: https://www.leeds.gov.uk/childfriendlyleeds/how-do-i-get-involved