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Blended practice: How frontline services are embracing digital
July 2, 2021

Finding different ways of working because of Covid-19 restrictions has been common practice for many sectors over the past 18 months.

Our new report ‘Blended practice: How frontline services are embracing digital’ looks at how digital technologies have been used to enable vital support services to continue during challenging times, and what it means for future service provision.

Speaking about the launch of the report, Verity Glasgow, our co-director of OnePlusOne, said:

“We are proud to be a learning organisation and are always keen to collaborate with others, especially those working on the frontline. We want to ensure that the resources we create fit the needs of the people using them. Covid-19 has undoubtedly accelerated the use of digital technologies as part of a blended approach to providing help when it’s needed.

We are grateful to the practitioners who took time to help us gain a better understanding of what blended practice means to them, the advantages it can offer, and the barriers that can be faced when using it. We look forward to using these findings to shape our future work providing evidence-based flexible resources to support parents and families.”

In the early months of the pandemic, at OnePlusOne we saw a 200% increase in demand for its online relationship support services. A survey conducted with practitioners at the end of 2020 revealed that more than three quarters were also using digital resources as part of a blended practice approach to their daily work.

The survey also revealed that the term ‘blended practice’ means different things to different people. Most participants said they used digital resources to deliver specific interventions, with 57% describing blended practice as any digital tool that is used alongside face-to-face support, including virtual meetings, text, telephone calls, and online resources.

One fifth of respondents described blended practice as collaborative working with parents across a range of multi-disciplinary agencies.

Focus groups with practitioners from across the country showed that the pandemic had led to greater use of digital offerings as part of their overall support package. This ranged from whole interventions being offered online, to the signposting of further information.

Many reported finding creative approaches to continuing their services during the height of the pandemic. This included adapting their own resources to use online, or opting for externally produced material made by charities, government-funded initiatives, and even the BBC.

Of paramount importance was the need to consider how best to engage with hard-to-reach, vulnerable families, and consider the additional support they might need. One practitioner explained:

“Digital resources to be used in blended practice need to afford practitioners the flexibility they require to engage with families at different levels of need.”

Practitioners highlighted the benefits of using digital technologies as:

  • Greater engagement. Using digital methods helps practitioners to reach people who can’t attend face-to-face sessions due to issues such as childcare, work, or geography.
  • Less confrontational. People who find it hard to seek help, have mental health issues, or feel anxious sitting in a room full of strangers often reported finding it easier to participate in online activities which they could do in their own time. Where virtual group meetings were part of the support, being able to turn off their camera and rejoin at a later stage was reported to help feelings of overwhelm and help maintain engagement.

It was generally accepted that there are still challenges to offering digital services, mainly around the issue of access to technology. Online support is not viewed as a replacement to face-to-face work, but as a complementary resource to build on the trusting relationship established between a practitioner and the family they are working with.

Dr Shannon Hirst, OnePlusOne’s lead researcher and author of the report, said:

“Combining face-to-face support with a range of digital options is helping practitioners to meet the needs of more families and to offer benefits that will last far beyond the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. This blended approach to service provision is here to stay. It has the potential to bring about lasting improvements and greater flexibility to the way parents and families receive the help they need.

Learning from those on the front line about what works and what challenges they face is essential to help us shape future resources that are fit for purpose. I look forward to continuing to learn about the new approaches people are taking, and to playing my part in creating evidence-based resources that help practitioners do their vital job of supporting families.”

The full report, ‘Blended practice: How frontline services are embracing digital’ is free to download.