Improving engagement for Families services – From the USA and Brazil to Beeston

Lucy Potter is a family support worker, community activist and Mum from Beeston in Leeds. She was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to investigate how the Children’s Services in Leeds could improve parental engagement for hard-to-reach families in urban areas of social deprivation.

Lucy with health workers in Esteiou, Porto Alegre, Brazil
Lucy with health workers in Esteiou, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Lucy’s travels took her to New York City and North Carolina for 4 weeks, and to the Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro and Porte Alegre for 3 weeks. In both countries she witnessed effective parent participation programs and intervention methods through partnerships with federal organisations, NGOs and academic establishments.

“I was impressed by the mobilisation of communities in Brazil, and by the radical movements in the Child Protection process in New York City,” said Lucy. “I discovered that families face similar issues all over the world: poor housing, physical and mental health problems, debt problems, drug and alcohol misuse. However, these are compounded by their environments and living conditions.”

Witnessing this on a larger scale brought the context of supporting families in poor areas of Leeds into perspective.

Lucy found that the quality of interaction between the families and support workers in these countries was based on an understanding of the community’s needs, thereby making the relationships between services and families more genuine and meaningful. Working alongside community leaders enabled outreach efforts to respond more naturally to families’ needs. Both Brazil and the States demonstrated a holistic and grassroots approach for attracting families with limited means to engage in groups and services.

This research highlights that, while the UK has high-quality universal childcare provision, the family support element is based on crisis intervention rather than building on preventative methods. With cuts to government spending, it is important to concentrate efforts into more community-led partnerships and local charities, and to start embracing our diverse culture.

Lucy has been invited by UNICEF in connection with ULBRA university in Porte Alegre to return to Brazil for the Semana Do Bebe in Canela this May. Here she will present her findings from a 5 week infant massage program to take place in Leeds, exploring the communication and bonding between parents, carers and their babies.

For more information contact Lucy Potter –, 07913 202559,