From evidence to practice: why it's time to ask about relationships

23 September 2016

By Ben Lewing, Implementation Adviser for the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF).

When was the last time your GP asked about the quality of your relationship? If you work with families when did you last talk to a parent about their relationship with their partner? We are very aware of the importance of being vigilant for signs of domestic abuse, but what about if the issue is more about silence than violence? We often find it uncomfortable to ask personal questions about relationships, but there is a growing body of evidence on the importance of the parental relationship to children’s outcomes.

A recent EIF review led by Professor Gordon Harold found that how parents communicate and relate to each other is a primary influence on parenting and children’s mental health and life chances. Although some conflict in relationships is normal, frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict between parents can profoundly affect children at any age.

The review also looked at the evidence for different UK and international programmes that target inter-parental relationships, and found a range of well-evidenced interventions that impact on parents and on children. Few of these have been delivered and evaluated in the UK to date.

The increasing focus on the need to support parental relationships within government policy creates immediate opportunities to apply this evidence to local practice. Twelve local authorities across the UK have been developing new activities to support inter-parental relationships over the past year and are now being offered further funding by DWP to take these plans further. This week EIF held a network meeting with commissioners and strategic leads representing these councils to share knowledge and learning and prepare for the next phase of the work. Asking the right questions was a common theme, with many places surprised at how readily parents will talk about the health of their relationship: “parents are often waiting for you to ask the personal questions; if they want to tell you, they’ll tell you.” The actions taken in these areas varies from place to place, from new training courses for professionals in Luton and Hertfordshire, adapting assessment frameworks or services for troubled families in Blackpool and Gateshead to piloting social prescribing of relationship support by GPs in Essex. This will all add to learning about how to implement support for inter-parental relationships and the impact this can have on children.

This is a really exciting project and demonstrates what is meant by EIF’s focus on using evidence to make change happen for families. And as far as inter-parental relationships are concerned, when it comes to asking those ‘nosy’ questions, nothing is off limits.

This is a really exciting project and demonstrates what is meant by EIF’s focus on using evidence to make change happen for families. And as far as inter-parental relationships are concerned, when it comes to asking those ‘nosy’ questions, nothing is off limits.