The Gateway, Fife (Improving Futures)

The Gateway project, part of the national Improving Futures scheme, began in August 2012 as a response to an identified gap in services in Levenmouth, where families were being affected by unemployment, poverty, substance misuse or domestic violence but were not eligible for support from core statutory services. The project works alongside families with the oldest child in primary school and where the families have multiple and complex needs with parents who often have little or poor self-identity, self-esteem or confidence. The project aims to reduce the risk of these multiple and complex disadvantages from reaching crisis point.


Part of our Early intervention into action series of case studies on innovation and evaluation

Fife’s story

The Gateway project uses a ‘gateway’ approach to provide an early response to families and refer them onto services they need, which are spot-purchased or commissioned by the Gateway project. Families are supported by Fife Gingerbread family mentors.

The Gateway provides three strands of support, with the length and intensity of support depending on the strand and the needs and engagement of the family.

  • Family mentoring: family mentoring is the most intensive and is based on one-to-one support from a ‘family mentor’ to a whole family. Family mentors are assigned to families at the point of referral and help them to develop an action plan of support in areas such as budgeting, parenting, relationship issues, housing, domestic abuse, managing children’s behaviour, isolation etc. They also provide support by organising trips and volunteering opportunities, and signposting families to other relevant services. Initially it was envisioned by the Gateway project team that family mentors would support families for between 8 and 12 weeks, but during the first year of delivery, they learned that the approach needed to be more flexible to account for the differing needs of their clients. Family mentors coach families to manage behaviour of their children and to build their knowledge of their needs. By doing this they built the confidence, parenting skills, resilience and improved mental health of 56 families over the past year. Each family has a bespoke plan of action created and this will be done in agreement with the family and from this families are connect them to the services that they need to provide a supportive and adequate home for their children. The action plan includes coaching to understand their child’s behaviour, to develop strategies to manage this and encouragement to apply these. Parents are supported to attend appointment such as dentists, GPs, child psychology, and education meetings. For the first three years, the family mentors sat alongside partner organisations; after this, they were consolidated into one co-located team in Gingerbread.
  • Family learning: family learning offers a light-touch way to engage with families as a whole, including wider family members such as grandparents, through a range of learning activities, including family cooking, literacy sessions, recreational and leisure activities, activities to specifically engage dads (such as bicycle repair workshops and football sessions) and safety awareness sessions. The family learning session also encouraged families to spend quality time together to make practical improvements to their lives. Family learning has developed a new model of delivery to local primary schools, Family Fun Clubs. This initiative combines all the work that the mentors do and includes the development of parents to become volunteers.
  • Volunteering: the volunteering strand was initially envisioned to not only provide opportunities for external individuals to come in and offer support and expertise to families, but also to support families into finding their own volunteering opportunities. This has been very successful, particularly in terms of connecting people to their communities and improving parent relationships with schools. The schools were very involved in providing the volunteering opportunities which contributed to the improvement in relationships.

Much of the work is delivered with and through schools and with partners in the community. The project has been led by Fife Gingerbread. The project was originally funded for three and a half years and was then awarded further funding through March 2017, among other supporting agencies.

What worked well?

  • Family mentoring was a very powerful service for the families. It not only helped them respond to practical problems but built confidence and resilience.
  • The partnerships nurtured and strengthened as part of the project have been very successful and have ensured a diversity of response and provision for families who are involved.

What was hard or challenging – and how was this overcome?

  • Some schools found the challenge offered by the family mentors – and by families whose confidence was growing from the mentor support – difficult to cope with, as the school staff were not used to the push-back from the families or mentors.
  • The family learning sessions were quite challenging, particularly to get the participating schools to engage as they took resource to schedule. The Gateway team eventually assigned specific mentors to each school so that the schools felt well-connected and supported. In one school this was due to capacity in the school where teachers were all very new and struggling. However, funding provided by the Scottish government helped secure resources for schools to participate and engage.

What are the key lessons?

  • Mentors are key – families need someone to walk alongside them as they address the challenges that they face. The mentors connect families to the services they need.
  • Small changes in people’s lives (often enabled by mentors) have major impacts without this always being visible or recognised before it happens.
  • It is important to speak the language that families use – not to use the language of professionals or the project when working with families but to meet them with their language where they are.
  • It is often useful to get a formal diagnosis for children who have needs as this opens doors to resources and gives parents a sense that challenges have deeper reasons than simply ‘bad parenting’.

About the evaluation

The Gateway evaluation is part of a wider national assessment of the projects funded as part of the Improving Futures programme. Both the local and national level evaluations combine quantitative and qualitative methodologies capturing family level outcomes as well as the views and experiences of staff stakeholders and families.

The Gateway evaluation is based on:

  • a desk review of various documents, including business plans, application forms, locally collected evidence on outcomes achieved, and mid-year and annual monitoring reports
  • analysis of project monitoring data inputted by project staff and collected through the Improving Futures Monitoring Information System (IFMIS)
  • a qualitative case study visit, during which researchers interviewed staff, stakeholders and families
  • an in-depth interview with the project coordinator.

What were the conditions of the evaluation?

As part of the Improving Futures programme, the Big Lottery Fund engaged Ecorys UK, Ipsos MORI, the University of Nottingham and Family Lives to evaluate the programme at a national and local level from October 11. The evaluation is funded over five years, to assess programme effectiveness and impact, alongside continuous dissemination. There is a national evaluation that sits alongside this local evaluation and can be found at www.improvingfutures.org/

A ‘mixed methods’ approach has been adopted:

  • Programme-level monitoring data collection: a secure online monitoring system, the Improving Futures Monitoring Information System (IFMIS), is accessed directly by project workers to create and maintain a profile for each family (and individual child and adult family members) using a standardised set of risk factors and strengths.
  • Project-level monitoring data collection: collection of bespoke data at an individual project level, drawing upon core assessment data and other administrative sources.
  • Longitudinal survey of families: a panel survey of Improving Futures beneficiaries (adults), exploring satisfaction with referral and support received, and ‘distance travelled’ during and beyond their involvement.
  • Stakeholder survey: a quantitative survey of key local stakeholders to: explore levels of visibility and awareness of Improving Futures; understand the synergies with other programmes; and gain a further perspective on the impact achieved at a local level.
  • Case study research: a rolling programme of case study to all Improving Futures projects. The visits include qualitative interviews with project staff, partners and families, and supplementary data collection. All case study visits have now taken place.
  • Cost-benefit analysis: a programme-level assessment of the costs and benefits of the programme will be undertaken, including estimates of the projected savings as a result of positive outcomes achieved and negative outcomes avoided, plus in-depth work within a subset of projects.
  • Participatory Action Research: a Family Panel comprising of beneficiaries will meet at key points during the evaluation to inform the research tool design, analysis, and recommendations.
  • Learning activities: a programme of internal learning activities has been designed to facilitate the exchange of good practice between the 26 projects, through events, social media and a bespoke website. The evaluation consortium has also overseen a programme of learning activities for projects to exchange good practice within the programme, and to learn from and share best practice with other stakeholders. A learning seminar was held with the projects in July 2015.
  • Action research cycle: The evaluation included a discrete strand of research to gather evidence for the three good practice themes featured in this report. The evaluation consortium adopted the principles of action research, so that the themes for year three were explored through an ongoing process of evidence-gathering and testing with different stakeholders. This included drawing upon the Family Panels, learning seminar, case study research, literature reviews and interviews with stakeholders, including policymakers, academics and think tanks.

What changes or outcomes were observed?

Evaluation data shown that the programme is associated with an improvement in strengths and a decrease in risks between entering and leaving the programme. These include:

  • a decease in adult risk factors, including problems with boundary-setting
  • an increase in child strengths, including self-reported peer friendships
  • a decrease in family risks, including reporting of social isolation.

Although it should be noted that due to some families not completing an exit interview due to the flexibility of support and the fact that some families stopped engaging means that these findings are not representative of all families that have received support at some point from Gateway.

What is hard or challenging about conducting an evaluation?

  • The evaluation proved quite challenging for the team. Frontline staff had to double-record data to meet the evaluation needs, because they used a different case record system – and the project had to provide two different reports drawing on the same information back to Big Lottery and the evaluators.
  • The evaluation report did not seem to reflect the totality of the programme.
  • Reflection and further questions were slow in coming once reports had been submitted, which meant the project lead had to go back and find all of the information again rather than having a chance to discuss soon after submitting data, at the point when the information was still fresh in mind.

What was useful about the evaluation?

The evaluation is useful for seeing what is actually happening and for providing insight for reflection and review. The involvement of parents was particularly positive; the parents who were involved had a significant self-confidence boost as a result of their participation in the evaluation.