Walsall: Leading, planning and conducting an evaluation of reducing parental conflict training across the Black Country Partnership
This is Walsall’s story about leading a project bringing together the Reducing Parental Conflict Black Country Partnership (BCP) to evaluate the reducing parental conflict training programme. The information in this case example could be used to develop and conduct an evaluation of reducing parental conflict training.
It is told by Georgina Atkins, Walsall’s parenting lead for early help, and Becky Saunders, local development adviser for the Early Intervention Foundation.
Our starting point
Much of the Black Country suffers from high unemployment, which is known to be a risk factor for parental conflict, and among the most economically deprived communities in the UK, in particular areas of the metropolitan boroughs of Sandwell, Walsall, and Wolverhampton.
|% of population in income deprivation
|Rank by greatest income deprivation (of 316 local authorities)
As with many urban areas in the UK, there is also a significant ethnic minority population in some areas: in Sandwell, 30.1 per cent of the population are from minority ethnic groups, and in Wolverhampton the figure is 32 per cent. However, in Walsall 78.7 per cent of the population is described as White, while in Dudley 89.9 per cent of the population is White, according to ONS data.
There is currently very little data available on how many minority ethnic parents experience parental conflict in the UK. However, official data from England and Wales shows that, when compared with white families, some minority ethnic families are more likely to experience factors strongly linked to impaired parental relationships, such as unemployment, economic pressures, and poor mental health, factors which are in turn influenced by racial discrimination.
The Black Country Partnership was launched in September 2021 across Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhampton to respond to the evidence that frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict between parents impacts negatively on children’s and young people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.
The Partnership has offered over 800 training places to staff working across the four local authorities of the Black Country area. At the outset, the partnership identified distinct levels of training, with the following aims respectively:
- Build awareness and identification of parental conflict across the Black Country.
- Equip early help lead professionals, case-holders and those intervening with families across the Black Country to use a BCP parental conflict toolkit, and to deliver interventions with couples and co-parents in relationship distress.
- Develop more specialist support for reducing parental conflict across the Black Country.
- Develop ‘Reducing Parental Conflict Champions’ within specific services and teams across the Black Country.
Partners were keen collaborate to evaluate the impact of the BCP training around reducing parental conflict and understand the difference the support was making for families.
After having got off to a shaky start because of the pandemic we felt that with the launch of the Black Country Partnership and a rollout of the four-level reducing parental conflict training offer, things had really got moving. We aspired to measure impact on outcomes for parents and children, but first we knew we needed to do the groundwork in evaluating our workforce training across the Black Country. We wanted to better understand the strengths of our training offer, how it could be improved to embed learning into practice, and to inform our future workforce planning.
The action we took
We set out to explore questions such as whether the training had been implemented as intended, its effectiveness in meeting the needs of participants, and whether training had resulted in changes in understanding or confidence of participants. We used EIF’s practical guide ‘How to evaluate training on reducing parental conflict’, following the steps set out to plan our evaluation, collect and analyse the results, and report our conclusions.
Given the tight timeline for the project we needed a clear project plan to define the aims of our evaluation and to keep us on track. We began by convening a meeting of the reducing parental conflict leads from across the BCP to identify our research questions, decide on research methods, and allocate tasks.
We used the Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation, a four-stage model that is widely used to measure effectiveness of training in an objective way, to help us to approach our evaluation. This allowed us to systematically define which aspects of the training we would seek to explore in more detail and to shape our research questions, linking these to the four stages of the Kirkpatrick model: reaction, learning, behaviour and results.
The group was interested to learn more about participant journeys into and through the different levels of training. We wanted to understand the difference that the training made to participants' confidence and practice, and if the tools were being used in work with families.
We agreed on a mixed-methods approach that included both a survey and a focus group. The online survey was used to gather quantitative data from the 800 training participants on whether and to what extent knowledge, skills and confidence had improved. The focus group was used to gather qualitative data to build a richer picture of participants' experience of the training, and to provide insights which would bring the survey findings to life.
Following the meeting we developed our data collection tools drawing upon EIF templates to design the survey and focus group topic guide, and shared these with our BCP partners for feedback.
Our online survey was developed on MS Forms, which was easy to use and compliant with our GDPR requirements. The link was emailed to everyone who had completed training across the levels 1–3. As an incentive, we promised a hard copy of the RPC toolkit to the first 100 people to complete the survey. The survey was open for two working weeks and in that time, we received 169 responses, representing a 20% response rate among those the survey was sent to, which we were incredibly pleased with.
We downloaded the survey responses into an Excel spreadsheet. The quantitative analysis of the survey involved calculating response rates, frequencies and percentages, the comparing the different levels of the training. Additional information gathered from open-ended questions allowed us to elaborate on the numerical findings.
We invited respondents from the survey to put themselves forward to participate in an online focus group, and from these purposively selected a group to represent the different boroughs as well as the different levels of training. Our focus group delegates received an information sheet and a consent form prior to attending, so that we had their informed consent before hosting the group.
Within the session, the broad-ranging conversation over 1.5 hours was kept on task using the topic guide, which expanded on aspects of our survey questions, allowing us to explore in more depth questions around reactions, learning and behaviour, with probing questions to support the group discussion. We recorded the focus group and used a written transcript for our analysis.
The transcript of the focus group was first analysed by categorising what was said by participants into the different components from the Kirkpatrick model using a colour-coding system, so that statements on ‘reaction’ were highlighted in one colour, and statements about ‘learning’ in another, and so on. Once all the data – the statements from our participants – had been categorised, we then grouped together the text for each of the levels and then summarised the transcript data to identify different key themes.
We offered a findings workshop to strategic stakeholders from across the Black Country Partnership, engaging with them in thinking about how our findings could inform our collaborative working and development of the RPC programme.
What we achieved
We have seen the value in evaluation, and if we had not done this research would be making our plans based on assumptions rather than facts. The research has helped us to see what is missing in our training offer and how we can strengthen it, including the need for a clear pathway through the levels of training and for support to embed learning into practice.
We were able to identify the range of agencies respondents were drawn from, and their boroughs, which helps us to understand who we were reaching with the training offer and where the gaps were.
We were able to demonstrate that the training was effective, with more than 80% of respondents stating that their knowledge, confidence, and skills had increased because of the training. Although we knew this anecdotally, having the evidence to back this up is invaluable.
Over half said that because of the level 1 training, they have had more relationships-focused conversations with families. Delegates said they were able to have discussions with families more openly; they had gained more awareness and could identify issues with more confidence and certainty; and the training had reinforced their skills.
Additionally, over 88% of delegates had increased their understanding of the impact of destructive parental conflict on children’s outcomes as a result of the level 1 training, and 79% felt the training had helped them to understand the difference between domestic abuse and parental conflict.
We discovered that learning was further enhanced if participants had completed both level 1 and level 2 training, which helped us to recognise the greater impact of building a learning journey for individuals. We also identified the importance of being able to offer this onward learning in a timely way, as participants who had completed level 1 training told us that they felt frustrated at not being able to move on to level 2 training.
We found that the toolkit was valued by participants, although the implementation of the toolkit in practice was less widespread than we had hoped. Responses to open-ended questions in our survey, and our focus group showed us that participants wanted more opportunities to practice using the tools, and to share learning with others.
Through this process we have learned new skills, particularly in coding the qualitative data gathered through our focus group. It also helped us to think about how we could disseminate the research findings more widely.
The time available for planning and to conducting an evaluation and analysing data has been a challenge all the way through this work, and this is something we have heard also from other local authorities. Pooling resources, and having support from senior leaders, a clear plan of action and support from colleagues helped us to mitigate these challenges, and we are pleased with what we have achieved.
We are using this research to shape the next steps of our RPC work in Walsall, and we will focus on strengthening the ‘golden thread’ between the different levels of training, so that each step builds upon previous learning, and learners can see a clear pathway through the levels. We also will look at how we can best support learning into practice through practice development sessions, supervision and developing practical resources to bring concepts to life.
There is a shared appetite for more cluster working across the Black Country Partnership in the future, with some considering their neighbouring authorities for other potential joint ventures. All are committed to ensuring the RPC agenda remains high-profile and will be encouraging buy-in from colleagues and senior managers.