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Case study

Birmingham Children’s Trust: Leading, planning and conducting an evaluation of reducing parental conflict training


5 May 2022

This is the story of how Birmingham Children’s Trust undertook an evaluation of their reducing parental conflict training. It is told by Ravinder Kaur, senior learning and development officer for reducing parental conflict, and Becky Saunders, local development adviser for the Early Intervention Foundation.

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Our starting point

According to the 2019 Indices of Deprivation, Birmingham has high levels of deprivation, ranked the seventh most deprived local authority in England, and the third most deprived English core city following Liverpool and Manchester.

Birmingham also has the highest share of residents living in the most deprived areas with 43 per cent of people living in areas that are ranked in the 10 per cent most deprived areas nationally. This equates to nearly half a million of the city’s residents living in the most deprived areas, including 132,500 children. Twenty-eight per cent of all children in Birmingham are living in income deprived households.

Evidence highlights that these harsh economic conditions, a poor home environment and parents’ employment patterns can affect the mental health and wellbeing of each parent, as well as the interparental relationship and co-parenting. These risk factors impact upon interparental conflict and ultimately on child outcomes, with an estimated 12 per cent of children in couple-parent families living with at least one parent reporting relationship distress.

In Birmingham we have been working to ensure that strategic leads and practitioners understand the research evidence on parental conflict and its impact on child outcomes. We recognise the importance of understanding local community need and linking our work on relationship support to existing strategies and action plans including our ‘Right Help Right Time’ strategy and our early help assessments. However, many practitioners still did not recognise parental conflict and struggled to differentiate this from domestic abuse, with the result that families were not being identified as needing help and were unable to access appropriate services in a timely way. Through this project we wanted to facilitate dialogue between strategic leaders and partners and embed parental relationship support into mainstream family services.

The action we took

Our reducing parental conflict training offer to frontline workers aims to raise awareness and support practitioners to gain confidence, knowledge and skills in working with parents in conflict. Knowing that we are offering the right kind of training to meet the needs of different agencies working with families is important to us.

Our training delivery was disrupted by the pandemic, which added impetus to wanting to evaluate what we had done to ensure our plans for future training were informed by what had worked well and identified areas for improvement. We chose to evaluate the first wave of training, from Knowledgepool, to provide a foundation of understanding which we could build on. The Knowledgepool Reducing Parental Conflict Programme was designed to upskill practitioners in supporting parents to reduce conflict within their relationship, whether they are together or separated. The e-learning programme supports practitioners, supervisors and managers in building awareness of parental conflict as a first step in building knowledge, confidence and skills in work with parents to reduce conflict and drive positive outcomes.

Supported by EIF and our DWP regional integration lead, we took a step-by-step approach to our evaluation, using the structure in EIF’s practical guide to evaluating reducing parental conflict training.

We started by developing our evaluation plan. This was helpful in setting out the different stages of our project timeline and what we needed to do at each stage, as well as identifying any data protection issues and setting out how we would comply with GDPR.

We defined our evaluation aims and identified our research questions, thinking about what was most important to find out before determining how we would gather the information. We decided on an evaluation to tell us how effective our Knowledgepool training for practitioners had been in supporting increases in awareness, understanding and confidence.

We also wanted to use the opportunity to share what we learned with our recently engaged stakeholder working group to raise awareness and inform a dialogue around future implementation of training.

We used the Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation described in the EIF guide to support us in writing our research questions, and this really helped to make sense of what we were asking and why. This model helped us to feel more confident that we were asking the right questions.

  • Reaction: Participants’ experiences of the training programme: did the training offer useful information, that was relevant, accessible, applicable, and well presented?
  • Learning: Did the different training modules meet the learning objectives? Were there any gaps in learning?
  • Behaviour: Are participants applying what they have learned to their role? What has helped with this, and what has made it more challenging?
  • Results: Overall were participants satisfied with the training? Did the training reach the people it was intended for?

We chose to use an online survey to gather feedback from the training participants and had discussions with colleagues in learning and development to host the questionnaire on our Birmingham City Council ‘Be Heard’ consultation hub. We used the EIF survey template, to help us write our survey. We emailed the survey link to all participants who had completed training. To encourage people to respond to the survey we told them what the purpose was, how long the survey would be open and how we would use the data. We also sent reminder emails encouraging survey completion.

The data from the survey was gathered within an excel spreadsheet for analysis, and our ‘Be Heard’ platform meant that we could easily extract percentages and charts from the survey responses.

Overall, we could see from our survey findings that:

  • most respondents were satisfied with the training
  • participants understanding of parental conflict increased because of the training
  • participants found the information about different types of conflict and its impact useful
  • participants were likely to use information from the training in their role
  • participants felt more confident in working with families around parental conflict.

We convened a findings workshop for our stakeholders, inviting them to hear about what we learned from the research. We discussed how the findings met with their experience and considered what this meant for our future plans.

What worked well and what we would recommend

Being able to learn more about evaluation methods from doing, and taking it step by step using the Kirkpatrick model helped us to think about the evaluation process and break it down into achievable tasks

Having a findings workshop and using participative methods meant that we brought different agencies together on the evaluation journey. It wasn’t just ticking a box but rather a purposeful discussion about the findings. Telling the story of the data through the workshop meant that we could bring people into a meaningful dialogue by making it relevant to their settings. We were able to think about the past, present and future, and a shared vision; learning more about their different settings and workforce needs and bringing us together to think about our plans.

“It is great to feel that we have been joined so enthusiastically by our multiagency stakeholders in taking this agenda forward. I wouldn’t have believed where we are now from where we were at the start, and I am looking forward to starting on our next evaluation”.

— Ravinder Kaur

Developing an evaluation plan at the outset helped us to be clear about our approach and the methods we would use. It also helped to keep us on track in completing the project within the tight timeframe. It was helpful to share this plan with our wider stakeholders and senior leaders to secure their engagement with the project.

“I have more confidence in using these evaluation methods now and this can support my desire to ensure that our training has real impact that people can use in their everyday work with parents, which is what my passion is.”

— Ravinder Kaur

In future we would plan for evaluation in advance so that participants receive the survey in a timely way and had sufficient time to respond. We received just under a 10 per cent response rate on our survey, which was not as high as we hoped for, but meant that we had some clear indicative findings to build on. The lower than anticipated response rate could be due to some months having elapsed between the training and our survey.

The survey meant that we were able to report on the difference that the training had made through a findings workshop. We were also able to draw on the responses to open ended questions in our survey which helped us to bring the quantitative analysis to life using the words and experiences of our respondents.

The future

We are already thinking about how we can use the learning from this project to further strengthen our training offer, build in evaluation plans to help us understand the effectiveness of training, and inform longer-term workforce planning.

We were really pleased that we have now engaged agencies who had not attended our working group before and to have their feedback, and it was great to hear from the schools about how they took this back into their settings – there is nothing like word of mouth to encourage more people to get involved.

The evaluation has helped us to think about how training might be adapted or improved based upon the feedback of our participants. The opportunity for learning has invigorated our steering group, widening and strengthening our networks. We will build on this momentum to make decisions on training needs and develop a shared vision that provides value for money and uses the approaches most relevant to their needs.

With all our ongoing work and interventions, we are aiming to work with managers and staff so they can share the information on parental conflict with colleagues to help us embed the necessary changes into all our practices.

“I feel that it will really benefit us if we ensure we are working with faith groups to raise their awareness of parental conflict and the impact on children and families. We can raise their awareness about what training and support is available. We know that there may be some families who may be wary of working with organisations, so we need to think about how we address inclusion and access to services. This can be strengthened by working together with different agencies to address stigma and think about the needs of different communities.”

— Ravinder Kaur

We are planning to take our training into schools, through the train the trainer programme, and will be buddying up together as we begin to roll out training so that practitioners new to training delivery can find their feet.

About the author

Becky Saunders

Becky is a senior local development adviser at EIF.