All hands on deck: the role of Family Hubs in supporting parental relationships
Given investment into Family Hubs and their purpose to provide joined-up, whole-family support services, Senior local development adviser Di Robertson emphasises the important role they can play in reducing parental conflict.
The evidence is clear that intense, frequent and poorly resolved parental conflict can negatively impact children’s outcomes and life chances. The Parental Conflict National Indicator derived from the Understanding Society Survey 2019/20, shows a consistent figure of 12% of couple-parent families where one adult is reporting relationship distress. That equates to almost 1.5m children affected (not including separated or divorced parents), or around two pupils in every school class, living in a home where there is potentially damaging parental conflict.
One of the key messages from research is the complex context in which relationship difficulties often take place. Families may be facing a range of challenging circumstances, such as having a child with additional needs or the presence of mental health difficulties, which add pressure to people’s lives and impact on their relationships.
Family Hubs are one of the key policy areas that could help these families. Given investment into Family Hubs and their purpose to provide joined-up, whole-family support services, they have a vital role to play in helping reduce parental conflict.
Embedding relationship support in Family Hubs
As mentioned, Family Hubs are uniquely placed to provide support on a range of issues from universal provision through to signposting to specialist services including relationship support.
Periods of change in families’ lives, such as pregnancy or the birth of a baby, a child changing school, divorce, or a bereavement, can all contribute to more stress, which can in turn lead to parental conflict. These points in time are when families may have contact with staff through a Family Hub and as such, they present an opportunity to identify parents, children and young people who may be experiencing parental conflict and to offer appropriate support.
Another key transition point and potential catalyst for parental conflict is when parents separate or divorce, which is why providing specific support for mothers and fathers around that critical time is an important focus for Family Hubs. For example, it is vital that senior leaders across all partners champion activity to encourage fathers to engage with relationship support. However, we know from evidence and professional knowledge that this is difficult.
Furthermore, for good reason until recently the focus for early years and family support has been on the relationship between parents and children and on parenting. While it’s important that we don’t lose this focus, the evidence is clear that if there are relationship difficulties, a focus on parenting alone is less likely to improve the situation. It is helpful to keep parental conflict in mind as a factor that can also influence children’s behaviour and the relationship between children and parents, alongside having the right processes and workforce in place to help families in need of support.
Ultimately parental conflict should be something that all Family Hub staff are aware of, rather than something that is the limited remit of one part of the workforce. The joined-up approach at the centre of Family Hubs provides a valuable foundation to identify parents, children and young people who need reducing parental conflict support and change how we work together to provide relationship support. This will enable us to be confident that we are not missing opportunities to ask parents about how they are getting on together as a couple or as separated parents and to raise awareness with all parents of the impact of destructive parental conflict on their children.
We have produced a brief guide outlining the evidence and clear steps for local areas to embed reducing parental conflict into Family Hubs as they progress through the Family Hub development stage into the delivery stage. The practical steps in the guide cover:
- Strategic planning
- Workforce development
- Leadership, governance & partnership
- Community services & interventions
- Outcomes & evaluation