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EIF report

Improving the way family support services work for minority ethnic families

This report explores the experiences of minority ethnic families in accessing and receiving family support, to better understand the challenges and opportunities in how family support services work for minority ethnic families and young people.




High-quality family support, delivered in the right way at the right time, can make a real difference for children and their families. There are, however, stark and persistent inequalities in outcomes for children from minority ethnic groups and many families struggle to get the help they need at the time they need it.

Although persistent inequalities in outcomes for children from minority ethnic groups are well known, there is limited understanding of the reasons behind them. We know that some risk factors disproportionately affect certain ethnic groups. We also know that children and families may be exposed to discrimination or disadvantage based on their personal characteristics, as well as racism in various forms, and that experiences of racism can affect child development.

So it is absolutely vital that family support services are working for minority ethnic families.

“Through this report, we hear the voices of young people and parents as they recount the kinds of experiences that make it less likely for some families to successfully access much-needed support, less likely to develop supportive relationships with practitioners, and consequently less likely to see the positive benefits that these services can provide."

Dr Jo Casebourne (chief exec, EIF), Jabeer Butt OBE (chief exec, Race Equality Foundation)
and Melanie Armstrong (chief exec, Action for Children)

This research was carried out by the Early Intervention Foundation in partnership with the Race Equality Foundation and Action for Children.

The research project was guided by parents and young people with experience of seeking or accessing family support, as well as by an advisory board. The research project collected two strands of primary data. The first was a qualitative survey with 102 parents and 59 young people (aged 12–18); the second was a series of complementary focus groups, including two sessions with young people and one with parents. Survey responses were collected via the SpeakOut website, which was promoted by distribution through a network of services and community groups.

Key findings

  • Experiences of discrimination and racism were commonly reported among the parents and young people who participated in our research. These experiences related both to trying to access services and to the support that families received from services.

  • One in three survey respondents felt that they were treated unfairly when seeking or receiving support for their family. A further 24% told us they were unsure about whether they had been treated fairly. For some participants this was directly linked to experiences of discrimination; for others it was about a broader sense that they had not been listened to or that their problems had been minimised.

  • We found that minority ethnic families were proactively seeking help and support, but that they encountered multiple barriers in doing so, including finding appropriate services, issues with service capacity and long waiting lists, and negative experiences of the first point of contact with services.

  • More than 40% of survey respondents said the support they then received made no difference or made things worse. Notably, parents and young people experienced a series of challenges around their relationship with the practitioner working with them. They told us that they did not feel heard, understood, validated or empowered, some even felt judged when seeking help for their family. Yet we know that the quality of the relationship between a practitioner and a family or young person is critical to the success of any intervention.

  • Parents and young people also identified a lack of cultural sensitivity within family support services. They found that services were not representative of the communities they worked with, and that practitioners did not always display cultural sensitivity or an understanding of cultural or religious influences on family dynamics.

Policy and practice implications

Some of the issues raised by parents and young people are familiar issues which may have an impact across ethnic groups. But it is also clear from wider statistics, recent publications, and from this research that minority ethnic families face additional barriers in accessing support that is appropriate for their needs.

The report sets out four key policy and practice implications which focus particularly on early help and family support services, and the opportunities afforded by family hubs, as well as by the recommendations within the independent review of children’s social care for a new single offer of family help.

  1. All services working with children and families must embed effective approaches to eradicate racist and discriminatory practices.
  2. Initial interactions with support services are critical. Local areas must make the idea of ‘no wrong door’ a reality for minority ethnic children, young people or families who reach out for help.
  3. Early help and wider family support services must be designed to better respond to the needs of minority ethnic families.
  4. Workforce planning in relation to early help and wider family support services must include a focus on the skills needed to build trusting relationships with minority ethnic families.

About the authors

Stephanie Waddell

Steph is assistant director for impact and knowledge mobilisation at EIF.

Miriam Sorgenfrei

Miriam is a senior research officer at EIF.

Grace Freeman

Grace is a policy adviser at EIF.