Inter-parental relationship support services available in the UK: Rapid review of evidence

Publication Details

Publication date: 15 December 2016
Edited by: Tom McBride

Authors: Lara Doubell, Laura Stock, Daniel Acquah

Our review of evidence on inter-parental relationships published in March 2016 identified the inter-parental relationship (IPR) as having a primary influence on children’s life chances. We know that the stress of being in poverty or on a low income impacts on parents’ mental health and puts pressure on their relationships. In order to better understand how far services are currently available to support families in these circumstances, EIF carried out a rapid review of the available literature in order to establish what work has already been done to map the nature and extent of relationship support provision in the UK.

Particular attention was paid to:

  • the types of relationship support services available in the UK
  • the profile of providers and service users
  • barriers to the implementation of support.

Our review had a particular focus on the extent to which services were available to families in or at risk of poverty, as well as the extent to which services consider or focus on child outcomes.

This was a small-scale review of key studies that attempted to map the landscape of research on relationship support services available in the UK. Further research is needed to comprehensively map current UK provision.

From the studies identified in this review it can be concluded that, due to several common barriers, families in or at risk of poverty are less likely to access relationship support.

The relationship sector and other organisations are engaged in a range of initiatives aimed at reaching disadvantaged families, which will be important to capture and evaluate in further research. We cite some examples in this review, but these are not intended to be comprehensive.

Review findings

The EIF report is based on a rapid review of evidence, synthesising the findings of 15 research papers completed between 2006 and 2016, to begin to map the extent and nature of relationship support services in the UK.

  • Historically, there has been a paucity of government funding for those working on relationship support for couples and families in the UK, so it is not surprising that relationship support provision is significantly underdeveloped in the UK, as is the evidence base on the effectiveness of interventions.
  • There is a substantive need to grow and invest in UK relationship support provision, embed a focus on parental relationships in local systems and services and trial evidence-based programmes from UK and international settings.
  • Health services and parenting programmes could help identify and engage families experiencing relationship difficulties early.
  • Schools could also have a role in identifying children and families affected by parental conflict, signposting to other services or supporting children through school counselling initiatives.
  • While existing interventions tend to target key transition points in the couple relationship, such as marriage, new parenthood, separation/divorce, there is also a need to target a wider range of transition points for families including children’s transition to school, and when parents risk falling into poverty.
  • Statutory services such as the police, housing services, social services and Cafcass often have significant contact with parents on low incomes experiencing relationship breakdown, so could play a role in identifying and referring or signposting couples who would benefit from relationship support.
  • Continued provision of free, subsidised, or donations-only services is needed to access families on low incomes, as well as a free initial appointment to all service users.

EIF is undertaking further work in 2017 in What Works to improve inter-parental relationships, including reviewing the latest evidence, supporting commissioners, and learning about effective implementation and delivery on the ground.

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