Why consider parental relationships?
It is evidently clear that inter-parental relationships characterised by acrimonious and destructive conflict are harmful for children. Parental conflict increases a child’s risk of developing emotional problems such as depression and anxiety. Children may also develop behavioural difficulties, become aggressive, difficult and struggle in education.
The Government understands this and seeks to tackle parental conflict as a key part of improving outcomes for children. They set out their vision in the paper ‘Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families’ and, since 2015, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been working with expert partners to establish the best way of embedding this vital knowledge into local services.
The 'Local Family Offer' pilot
Phase one of the DWP’s ‘Local Family Offer’ pilot programme included collaborating with relationship experts, OnePlusOne and the Innovation Unit, to work with twelve Local Authorities across the country. Over the course of two years, this helped each Local Authority to understand and interpret the evidence about parental conflict within their area.
In brief, we established three essential components required to successfully embed the prevention of inter-parental conflict work in services:
- Up-skilling frontline practitioners to be able and confident to engage with families around the sensitive issue of relationships; offer support where possible and make effective referrals when necessary.
- Development of ‘pathway services’ across the spectrum of relationship support so that appropriate interventions are available from universal early intervention to more specialist intensive therapeutic services.
- Strategies for system and culture change focused, at a local level, on inter-parental relationships as a key determinant of outcomes for children.
Through careful analysis of local data, priorities were identified at a local level to enable each Local Authority to create a bespoke approach to tackle parental conflict. This meant that the Authority could target the pilot resources to the families and children that would benefit most from improved parental relationships.
How local areas used the Local Family Offer
By way of example, Newcastle City Council understood that families with a history of social and emotional difficulties were likely to see conflict in the home. They chose to apply the Local Family Offer to families living in deprived wards and who are going through a significant transition, i.e. the birth of a new child.
Croydon council identified that the conflict risk factor most pressing to their residents is financial instability. Front line council staff were already speaking to these residents regularly when helping with money based issues or services. Through the ‘Local Family Offer’ training, they are now also able to help build the resilience of vulnerable couples by signposting to appropriate services - thus protecting the whole family against the stress associated with financial instability.
What we learned
The pilot scheme demonstrated to all ‘Local Family Offer’ Local Authorities that preventing parental conflict should be an integral part of services, including through the local Troubled Families offer.
The bespoke nature of each approach was not only fascinating for us to be involved with, it meant that individual authorities really owned the project and could visualise the families that their efforts would help.
I want to impress on all readers that we can improve the quality of adult relationships and in doing so, we will improve outcomes for children. Please leave a comment below or get in touch with me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org