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Innovation Unit and OnePlusOne reflections and recommendations

By Dean Wilson, 22 March 2016

As part of the Department for Work and Pension’s Local Family Offer programme, 12 local authorities across the UK have been thinking about how they can improve outcomes for children through improving the quality of couple or co-parenting relationships. Innovation Unit and OnePlusOne have been supporting these local authorities in the development of Local Family Offer strategies. All 12 have been awarded funding to implement their ideas.

The evidence is clear. Relationships – not just relationships between parents and children, or between parents, but all relationships both inside and outside the family – are foundational to individual and social well-being.

Increasingly we understand that the more relationally capable a parent is, the more likely they will be to exercise resilience in the face of adversity. They will be better able to nurture their child’s social, emotional and cognitive development, and engage more productively with the world around them (through work or community activity).

To sustainably improve the life chances of our most vulnerable children through prevention and early intervention, it is essential to work with adults to help them build their own relational capability. This is a view shared by some of the world’s leading early childhood development thinkers, including Jack Shonkoff at the Harvard Centre for the Developing Child:

Better outcomes for vulnerable, young children could be achieved by greater attention to strengthening the resources and capabilities of the adults who care for them rather than continuing to focus primarily on the provision of child-focused enrichment, parenting education, and informal support.”

We believe that the Local Family Offer programme represents a benchmark for local authorities interested in the prevention and early intervention agendas. By focussing explicitly on the quality of couple relationships, the programme is challenging local authorities to think more holistically about how they support families. It is encouraging them to recognise and work with the relational capability of parents and families.

In Newcastle, the team will work with a cohort of families who are at risk of deteriorating relationship quality and family breakdown. Specifically these are families who live in the most deprived wards in the city who are becoming parents, and for whom there is a history of social and emotional difficulties. These are all significant risk factors that affect the quality and stability of relationships.

The team aims to identify these families early and provide a range of interventions to increase the resilience of their relationships in the face of such stress. The desired outcome is to reduce the likelihood of the families experiencing violence or breakdown later on.

In Croydon, the evidence shows that the high numbers of families who are at risk of financial instability are also at risk of deteriorating relationship quality. The team has identified an opportunity to work with these families at the point at which they come forward to the council’s Gateway team for help with their financial difficulties.

Croydon and Newcastle are at the beginning of their journeys. With our help, they have made significant progress in using the evidence to identify when to intervene, and with whom. They have also thought carefully about the kinds of interventions they might need to design and implement, and what might help those interventions to be successful. The publication of the Early Intervention Foundation’s review of the evidence in relation to couple or co-parenting relationship interventions is well timed, and will help them develop their thinking over the next year.

The Local Family Offer programme has given 12 local authorities the space and time to think seriously about the critical role of relationships in prevention and early intervention. This is the start of what we hope will become a much bigger movement across the country.

Written by Jonny Mallinson, Senior Project Lead at Innovation Unit and Penny Mansfield, Director of OnePlusOne.

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