100% Digital Leeds has been working with organisations supporting families with young children to embed digital inclusion in their offers. Working with Children’s Centres, and the 0-19 Public Health Integrated Nursing Service (Health Visiting and School Nursing) within Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust (LCH), has helped us to understand the impact of digital exclusion on families with young children.
“Giving out phones and data has been a massive success for us, not only being able to give something to families that struggle on a daily basis with the cost of living but enabling them to make regular contact with services. We are keen to empower families and this really helps. Something so small really can make a difference to someone’s life.”Elkie Jones, Family Outreach Worker
The families most likely to be digitally excluded have been found to be those on low incomes, unable to work and reliant on benefits. Lack of connectivity is the main barrier to digital inclusion, with a large proportion of families living with data poverty, unable to afford wifi and reliant on ‘pay as you go’ data, the most expensive way to buy data. For some families that do have access to a device such as a smartphone, one device is shared by the family, often leaving the mother without reliable access.
This can leave families without the ability to self-manage essentials such as Universal Credit or access support services for help. Women who experience domestic violence are often the most digitally excluded and those most negatively affected by that exclusion. They may be unable to make emergency calls to the police when incidents are happening, and be forced to wait until they drop the children at nursery or see an outreach worker.
“I was in a violent and abusive relationship. When my ex-partner moved out I was left with no access to a phone so I was unable to contact anyone for help. Since being gifted a phone with data I’ve been able to call services and text the Family Support Worker. I’ve been able to find a nursery place for my two-year-old.”Parent supported by a Family Support Worker
Over the last year 100% Digital Leeds has worked with staff at Children’s Centres in the Gipton and Beeston areas of the city to understand the impact of digital exclusion on some of the families they support, and to put the relevant digital inclusion support in place.
Family Support Workers were provided with a small number of smartphones to gift to digitally excluded families, via Hubbub’s Community Calling project. They were also supported to join the Good Things Foundation’s National Databank, giving them the opportunity to gift 4G SIM cards with free data, calls, and texts, to families struggling with data poverty.
“It’s great to see the women we have been supporting become independent. Mums can contact us when they need support and don’t have to wait until their partner is home or they are allowed out of the home to get that support.”Lisa Holliday, Senior Family Outreach Worker
Having access to digital devices and data has helped parents be more independent, reducing reliance on, and freeing up the capacity of, Family Support Workers. Families supported with connectivity have been able to work independently to:
- look after their finances by managing their Universal Credit and using online banking
- manage their health and wellbeing, and that of their families, by being able to make medical appointments and calls to Leeds Domestic Violence Service in private
- manage their housing by bidding on social properties and reporting repairs
- access learning and development by attending online learning sessions
“As a single parent of two small children, one who is undergoing assessment for autism, having access to a phone and credit has made such a difference to me. Being given my own phone with access to the internet means I can now access my Universal Credit without having to wait to use my sister’s phone all the time.”Parent supported by a Family Support Worker
Families supported with connectivity being able to be more independent has meant the capacity of Family Support Workers has been freed up to support other families in need of help. Family Support Workers report previously having spent time visiting parents at home only for them to not be available, or not in a position to to be able to accept help at that time. This could be because of an abusive partner or another situation that couldn’t be clarified before visiting, as the parent was uncontactable because of a lack of device or data. As well as the Family Support Worker being able to check in with the parent before visiting, having the necessary device or data has allowed the parent to contact the Family Support Worker and other services when they need help. This has enabled them to proactively access the right support at the right time for them.
“Thank you so much for the data code. It’s meant I’ve been able to call the perinatal mental health team and arrange a different appointment for my anxiety and depression. With four children, all of us in a one-bed flat, being able to keep in touch with people makes such a difference to me.”Parent supported by a Family Support Worker
Both Family Service Teams involved in the pilot have identified a need for equipment to be made available for use by families visiting their Centres. There is also a need for equipment that Family Support Workers can use to support people in home. Tablets borrowed from Leeds Libraries have been used to trial this, and funding is being identified to support the provision of equipment in the long term.
Baby Bubble Leeds
100% Digital Leeds is working with the 0-19 Public Health Integrated Nursing Service (Health Visiting and School Nursing) within Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust (LCH) and Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust (LTHT) Midwifery Service to support the development of Baby Bubble Leeds, an initiative to access support and information from health professionals using closed, moderated Facebook groups. Baby Bubble Leeds is due to be officially launched in March.
“Digital health access is increasingly becoming an option across all aspects of the NHS. With this comes the necessity to ensure that we support people to overcome digital exclusion and digital poverty.”Amanda Jackson, LCH 0-19 Clinical Team Manager and project co-lead.
Baby Bubble is aimed at supporting women who typically find accessing health services challenging, and face health inequalities as a result. Recognising the importance of sharing key public health messages and personalised advice through different methods, the scheme utilises Facebook as a digital platform already used by the women the service is aimed at, and one they feel comfortable with. As well as the current service offers of face-to-face contact, this ensures that all families have the best start and improve their health outcomes.
100% Digital Leeds is working with LCH to ensure that the project is as inclusive as possible, recognising that whilst the women the project is aimed at may find it useful to engage with health services digitally, they are also likely to face some barriers to engaging with digital. Clinicians will receive digital inclusion awareness training so they are in a position to identify the following barriers and offer support:
- Data poverty: LCH has signed up to the National Databank, allowing clinicians to gift 4G data.
- Digital skills: Clinicians will also be able to support women with the fundamentals of setting up an email account and Facebook account where necessary, and can signpost those who need additional support to Children’s Centres or their local Digital Health Hub.
- eSafety: Through 100% Digital Leeds’s partnership with Three clinicians will be trained in how to moderate the Facebook groups and support parents to use Facebook and other social media safely.
“Through Baby Bubble Leeds we will provide practical advice and information not only on health-related topics, but also the tools and support to enable women to be digitally enabled in all aspects of their lives.”Amanda Jackson, LCH 0-19 Clinical Team Manager and project co-lead.