Lancashire: Using needs assessment and support mapping to drive local plans to reduce parental conflict
This case study sets out how Lancashire developed a local needs assessment and support pathway for reducing parental conflict (RPC). It is told by Helen Armstrong, central programmes team manager at Lancashire County Council, and Robyn Tulloch, project support officer at EIF.
Our starting point
Lancashire is a large county with an estimated population of 1.5 million (2020) across 12 districts. Notably, it has a large number of small areas in the 10% more deprived localities in England, with fewer in the 10% least deprived.
We decided to embark on the project to understand the availability and appropriateness of parental conflict support in Lancashire across the continuum of need. The intention was to use local evidence to inform Lancashire’s delivery of the national Reducing Parental Conflict Programme, by completing a local population needs assessment, identifying local relationship support providers, and developing a local area pathway of support.
We wanted to identify:
who was delivering support for reducing parental conflict in Lancashire
what that type of support was
what the barriers were to delivering support.
The information collected would then be used to plan future work and ensure funding opportunities could be targeted appropriately.
The action we took
We used EIF’s step-by-step guide to conducting a needs assessment on parental conflict as a framework to point us in the right direction, in terms of the data we would need and guidance on how to source it. A member of our management information team with experience of extracting and analysing data for Supporting Families in Lancashire was allocated to this task. We considered how to source and compile data relating to RPC risk factors and how to present the findings.
The focus of this work was on data sourced from our early help case management system. This provided some valuable information on the prevalence of parental conflict as a presenting need at referral and an identified need after assessment in early help cases. We could then look at how prevalent parental conflict is in the cases where some of the known risk factors are also present. This showed us, for example, that parental conflict was present in 91% of cases where mental health was a presenting need at referral. Other identifiers were poverty, homelessness, SEND and substance misuse, among others.
We adapted questions in EIF’s intervention mapping template to meet the needs of the Lancashire context and planned how to get the maximum returns possible.
We were aware that very few specialist interventions were available, but we wanted to understand:
- what informal support is available
- what form it takes
- if the Pan-Lancashire Toolkit is being used and impacting practice
- the gaps in service and barriers to accessing support.
Through regular follow-ups and reminders, we achieved a good level of response to the survey (over 70 responses) across a range of stakeholders. We identified the partners from whom we had not received a response and followed up directly to ensure we could represent a complete picture of local relationship support.
Once the survey responses were received, we analysed and compiled the information to map relationship support in Lancashire. This included considering how services were targeted based on risk factors for relationship conflict, and whether services offered specific parental conflict interventions, as shown in the diagram below.
Relationship support in Lancashire
What we learned and what we would recommend
Carrying out this work to develop the parental conflict needs assessment and support pathway gave us new insights on challenges and gaps:
Initial analysis of the early help data showed a high prevalence of parental conflict. This supported making the case to partners for a collaborative approach across agencies.
A large number of survey respondents reported that parental conflict support in Lancashire was being provided informally, sometimes by practitioners who have not received RPC training, which was important in guiding our training offer.
Structured interventions are being delivered by the Children and Family Wellbeing Service (Early Help) as part of family intensive support and group work delivery, however other agencies were not aware of this and did not know how to make referrals.
There was no specialist relationship support provision available for the most vulnerable families in Lancashire.
Overall, the project has helped us to determine the key priorities for reducing parental conflict in Lancashire and how we should best target resources. This information, along with the planning tool, will be used for future funding opportunities.
In terms of how we structured the project:
Lancashire is a large county made up of 12 districts, and so we initially considered focusing on one district as a pilot. We chose not to do this, as we thought the Lancashire-wide perspective would be more helpful to inform planning. However, in retrospect, this may have made the task more achievable in the four-month timescale.
The Joint Strategic Needs Analysis (JSNA) data for Lancashire is presented and analysed on a district basis so we found it quite difficult to get an overarching Lancashire view. With more time, we would scrutinise the available district data from the needs assessment to get a better understanding of where we need to target resource and support service provision.
When using the EIF tools and resources it is important to consider what is relevant to your own context and to adapt the tools to align with this. The tools are user-friendly and process-driven, which is helpful when you are trying to do some quite complex tasks in a short timescale.
We would recommend the following to those completing a similar project:
Set clear milestones and break the tasks down into manageable steps.
Consider how you will engage partner agencies in both the survey and the sharing of findings, as this can be a challenge.
Identify appropriate resource to support data analysis.
Consider how you will use the information and structure your data collection accordingly.
Over the next two years we aim to consolidate use of Lancashire’s Relationship Toolkit, particularly in schools; embed the training into practice in the early help service; secure greater strategic involvement in our work on parental conflict by strengthening the steering group; and increase the availability of interventions for families who are experiencing conflict, to be provided by the agency or professional most suited to their needs and circumstances.
As a result of working with EIF we identified some key priorities for continued development:
The survey results showed that referral pathways are still not embedded, and professionals are often not aware of what support is available for parental conflict.
Although we have invested significantly in training key staff, such as family intensive support workers, to deliver structured interventions and relationship support programmes, practitioners need continued support to embed training into practice and to address conflict in relationships as part of early help plans.
Family support workers report a large proportion of their case work is for separated parents, with many of those co-parenting in conflict, but there is a gap in provision for early help interventions for separated couples co-parenting in conflict.
Relationship leaders and champions have been identified from within the early help service, although they have not yet been utilised fully. Further support is needed for the leaders and champions role, and the network could be strengthened by including more champions from partner agencies.
There is a need to further cascade the Pan-Lancashire Toolkit within schools. Very few had received the toolkit, had staff who were trained on parental conflict, or were aware of referral pathways.
We have no firm evidence of prevalence of RPC at a district level, although we know that it is a presenting need in 60% of early help cases, often alongside other risk factors. Further analysis would help to understand the risk factors associated with parental conflict a district level, and what this means for targeted support.
By developing a pan-Lancashire webpage on reducing parental conflict we will ensure that evidence-based resources are available easily both to agencies and to parents.
Central Programmes Team Manager
Lancashire County Council