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"Turning up the dial" on reducing parental conflict


25 Jun 2019

Ahead of a week featuring two major EIF conference events, Donna Molloy looks back at the growth we've seen in the reducing parental conflict agenda, from an EIF report to a national programme.

Back in 2016 we published a major ‘what works’ report, commissioned by DWP, to review the evidence on the impact of parental conflict on outcomes for children. This brought together for the first time the evidence showing that the way parents relate to each other is a primary influence on children’s mental health and long-term life chances. In particular, it established that frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict between parents can have a harmful impact on children’s outcomes.

It was also the beginning of a whole programme of work on this issue over the years since, as tackling harmful parental conflict and its effects on children’s lives has become a major focus for EIF and for central and local government. That work continues this week, as we welcome several hundred delegates to conference events in London and Manchester to hear about this evidence and consider what this might mean for the services they run.

Reducing parental conflict is one area where the scientific evidence that it matters is very strong, but the evidence on how to intervene is at a very early stage. We also know that the quality of the parental relationship and how this influences outcomes for children is not something that is often considered or focused on in child or adult services. Indeed, one of the conclusions from the 2016 review was that parental conflict was ‘a neglected site’ for early intervention. We wanted to change this.

It’s unusual in our work to find an area for early intervention which is not well established in either policy or service delivery. Much of our work focuses on issues such as improving children’s mental health or preventing youth crime, all of which are longstanding, mainstream social policy priorities.

Parental conflict was different. This felt like a real opportunity to make progress in terms of intervening early to improve children’s outcomes. And we were particularly keen to see that this evidence was being used.

Right from the start, the team at the Department for Work and Pensions have been committed to acting on the evidence. The fact that there is now a national programme dedicated to supporting places to take action to reduce damaging parental conflict is such an important step. And through the strong focus on evaluation in the national programme, we will start to developed much-needed UK evidence on what works best to reduce conflict between parents and improve outcomes for children.

We believe that reducing parental conflict is everyone’s business. Everyone in the room at our conferences this week – from central and local government, charities, healthcare, schools and other family services – has a role to play in achieving change on this issue nationally or locally. (For example, we have produced particular factsheets with health services and local government agencies in mind.)

Back in 2016, we talked about wanting to ‘turn up the dial’ on this issue. Three years on, it really feels like this is happening:

  • we are in year two of a three-year DWP national programme
  • this programme is now reaching almost every local authority area, from an initial 12 Local Family Offer areas
  • and now we have almost 400 people assembling in London and Manchester this week who want to hear about the evidence and how they can apply it.

So while there is still an enormous amount to do, we should recognise that, collectively, we are making real progress, which is tremendously encouraging.

About the author

Donna Molloy

Donna is director of policy & practice at EIF.