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Can supporting couple relationships improve children’s life chances?

Reflections from #EIFNatCon


12 May 2016

Reflections from two attendees at this session at our 2016 national conference.

The session was chaired by EIF trustee Honor Rhodes, OBE, and featuring contributions from Penny Mansfield, Director of OnePlusOne, Professor Gordon Harold of the University of Sussex, Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chief Executive at the Centre for Social Justice, and Claire Burrell, Head of Commissioning for Vulnerable People at Essex County Council.

Jan Casson, Children’s Centre Locality Manager, Northumberland County Council

Professor Harold’s research team’s findings were fascinating and appeared to confirm what many practitioners experience on an almost daily basis: that children make progress socially, emotionally and developmentally when parents or carers are working together as a team and conflict is resolved.

Poor inter-parental relationships and negative parenting has a substantive influence on the child’s long-term mental health. What came across very clearly was the need to invest in couple relationship support and early intervention services that support the couple whether together or separated in order to minimise the effects on children’s long term life chances.

In my own Children Centre cluster we work with families in a positive way that supports family life, reduces conflict and helps parents find a way to resolve their issues, or at least come to a compromise that reduces tension in the home. This might be through the help of a Family Support Worker who works with the family in their own environment, seeking agreed solutions, and helping the family think through their issues with the hope of reaching an amicable way forward.

It might be through signposting to another agency such as Relate, key partners in my own area, who work with the couple to find agreed ways forward, or by supporting the separating couple to understand their role in protecting their child in what can be an extremely traumatic and sometimes abusive situation.

As a team we also work with the Citizens Advice Bureau to ensure that families experiencing issues in their relationships, or at the point of leaving a relationship, can be supported to make the most appropriate financial decisions, thus relieving some of the pressure and hopefully reducing the inter-parental conflict and the effects on the child. That feels a good way to view progress in early intervention and parenting policy. And if this is how far things have come, we have great foundations to build on for the future.

Merle Davies, Director, Blackpool Centre for Early Child Development

What’s not to like about a workshop chaired by Honor Rhodes who, in her inimitable style, ensured that the audience was able to learn about this important area of work from an academic, policy, commissioning and delivery approach.

Professor Gordon Harold provided a whirlwind overview of the main areas the recent EIF report covered, including children’s perceptions of inter-parental conflict and the research findings around children brought up by biological parents and non biological parents (nature vs nurture) and showed that in both situations there is a link between inter-parental conflict and poor child outcomes.

Baroness Philippa Stroud followed by providing a compelling argument as to why supporting couple relationships is so important for policy and the impact it has on employment, educational achievement, health outcomes (including mental health) and all aspects of life including providing stable environments in which children can be raised. This was even before considering the economic case, saving the tax payer £46 billion p.a. She made a strong and valid case for supporting not just the parent/child relationship but also the relationship between parents.

Penny Mansfield, Director of One Plus One, then talked about the work they are involved in with Local Authorities, looking at local evidence around couple relationships, including risk and protective factors, and working with the Local Authority to devise a ’logic model’ to enable them to place this work within current strategies and link it to ongoing work. This was described further by Clare Burrell who explained how in Essex they are reviewing what they commission and are focusing their resource to work with adults in families, making use of counselling and mediation services to ameliorate the impact of inter couple conflict on children in the family.

The workshop brought home just how important it is that, as we transform services for the 0-3s and their parents in Blackpool, we ensure that we provide adults in the family with the support to enable them to have a positive relationship with each other and thereby provide a nurturing environment for children.  Definitely food for thought.