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Rising to the pandemic challenge: how local adaptations to parental relationship support can offer longer-term solutions


28 Sep 2020

Virginia Ghiara looks at the issues our report identified around support for reducing parental conflict during lockdown, and looks forward to Healthy Relationships Week in October.

With local areas experiencing a surge in parental conflict due to pandemic restrictions, this is a critical time to support parents and children. So how have local areas been able to help families when much of the existing relationship support was previously based on face-to-face contact? Our recent report, Reducing parental conflict in the context of Covid-19, shows how local areas adapted to sustain relationship support for families during the national lockdown, and these new approaches offer a longer-term way forward. 

Lockdowns, social distancing and extra pressures on families, including financial challenges and job losses, have created a strain on parental relationships. Our survey of 42 local authorities revealed that more families across the country are experiencing higher levels of stress, and this in turn has led to the escalation of conflict between parents at home. Although this finding is mainly based on anecdotal evidence, we know from our What Works review that this situation is likely to be harmful not only for parents but also for children, because parental conflict can put children’s mental health and long-term outcomes at risk.

Adapting parental relationship support to the pandemic world has been challenging. As revealed by our survey, the level of ability to deliver interventions digitally was often not sufficient to offer virtual and digital support confidently; and there have been concerns about maintaining privacy and confidentiality while working from home, with many users unable to find a room where they could talk without being heard. Some local authorities have questioned their ability to identify escalating risk with limited home visits and without regular face-to-face contact with universal services. 

However, the sector has found new and innovative ways to support families in need. Our survey shows that many local authorities and their partners are adapting interventions and services to offer virtual and digital support, including visiting virtually to assess the home environment. They are also continuing face-to-face contact for those who are most in need, socially distanced in gardens and using PPE. Some have adapted the working day so that contact can happen in the evening when children are in bed. There are also new partnership arrangements between local authorities, the NHS, police, schools, and the voluntary and community sector. These have led to improved data sharing, new referral systems, and new collaborative monitoring processes to prioritise support to families most in need.

The innovation and cooperation used to overcome the obstacles posed by Covid-19 are real local breakthroughs, sometimes to longstanding blockages in partnership working. It‘s crucial that these gains are banked for the future, and that local success stories are shared with others who can adapt the learning to similar contexts.

To facilitate this sharing of learning, EIF is hosting a Healthy Relationships Week, starting on the 19th of October, which will shine a spotlight on local progress in improving outcomes for children by tackling conflict between parents. Through webinars, blogs and case studies from local and national experts, we will showcase practical local responses to Covid-19 challenges; strategies for embedding healthy relationships into everyday support for families; and promising support for separated and separating parents.

The sector has shown how to cope in the short term to the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic. It's now time to make these ways of working the new business as usual and to scale up the focus on healthy parental relationships. 

Our Healthy Relationship Week webinars are now sold out, but you can join the waiting list or follow EIF to see when videos are available. 

If you’d like to support Healthy Relationships Week we’ll be using the hashtag #healthyrelationshipsweek