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Case study

Wirral: Making reducing parental conflict part of everyday business for frontline professionals


19 Oct 2020

This case example is part of EIF’s ongoing work to showcase how local areas are introducing change, adapting their strategies and changing the way they work to reduce parental conflict and improve outcomes for children.

This is Wirral’s story about building a multi-agency training programme and improving partnership working to help professionals confidently support parents in distressed relationships. It is told by Jane Egan, early help partnership manager.

Find out more about our series of case examples or submit your local area's story.

Our starting point

With a population of 322,796, Wirral is one of the largest metropolitan boroughs in England. Characterised by contrasts, both in its physical characteristics and demographics, Wirral comprises both areas of greatest wealth and some of the most disadvantaged areas in England. In East Wirral, up to 54% of children live with single parents, and while this is not reflective of parental conflict, multi-layered issues of disadvantage such as low income and poverty indicate a greater risk of parental conflict. In a recent survey of Google searches relating to ‘divorce’ complied by a firm of solicitors, Birkenhead came top in the UK, again perhaps indicative of relationship disharmony. 

Prior to 2019, parental conflict was not identified as a primary concern by the police and children’s services Integrated Front Door (including the Central Advice and Duty Team and the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub). Poor interparental relationships were generally classified as low or moderate domestic abuse, or occasionally described as parenting, child mental health or managing behaviour issues.

To consistently recognise instances of parental conflict, we needed all multi-agency frontline practitioners and their managers who work with children, young people and families, to better understand how this differs from domestic abuse, and acknowledge the impact upon children and young people’s wellbeing.

Wirral also lacked support programmes and resources to support trained professionals and parents who wanted to reduce parental conflict and its impact upon children. We identified that it was important to provide clear advice and information to all frontline practitioners and managers on how best to consistently recognise parental conflict and support these families.

The action we took

We wanted to change the approach of professionals so that identifying and addressing parental conflict was seen as a primary and multi-agency concern. Key to the success of our work was ensuring that senior leaders committed to making reducing parental conflict part of everyday business. To do this, we put in place the following activities:

  • We used funding provided through DWP to hold a multi-agency awareness-raising workshop event for senior leaders and managers from across the children and families sector, to galvanise commitment to workforce development and training.
  • We also used DWP funding to commission classroom-based training to Wirral professionals from the voluntary and community sector, local authority children’s services, education, and health, and to early help-appointed police community support officers.
  • To improve and coordinate partnership working we appointed a Children’s Services Partnership Manager, tasked with leading the reducing parental conflict agenda across the wider workforce working with children and families.
  • We established a reducing parental conflict (RPC) steering group to focus on the development of key areas, including a new, tailored multi-agency RPC training programme; and an ‘RPC Key Themes’ package, which will be incorporated by organisations into existing training programmes.
  • In January 2020 we introduced a triage system at Wirral Children’s Services Integrated Front Door to review contacts that come through from police and partner agencies and determine instances of parental conflict as opposed to low and medium levels of domestic abuse.

What we achieved

Over 170 Wirral professionals from the voluntary and community sector, local authority children’s services, education, health and the police received training to improve their skills in supporting parents to reduce conflict within their relationship. Professionals who had taken part in the training programme gave a 96% satisfaction rating for the training provided. 100% of delegates who responded believed the course material was relevant; said they were provided with the expected information, knowledge and skills needed for reducing parental conflict; and felt confident to use these skills within their roles.

Parental conflict is identified through case triage, and professionals are provided with advice of how to support parents and signposted to the resources available, albeit that these are still limited. In the first eight months of this year, 446 contacts were triaged as parental conflict.

Early Childhood services are at the early stages of working with OnePlusOne to introduce the ‘You, Me and Baby Too’, ‘Arguing Better’ and ‘Getting it right for children’ programme to parents where potential emerging parental conflict has been identified. The relationship between Wirral Early Childhood services and OnePlusOne has enabled practitioner guidance notes to be effectively used, and they are currently looking to evaluate early signs of impact of the use of this resources across Wirral Children’s Centres. Moreover, by ensuring that the RPC agenda is linked to Wirral’s Children’s Services and partnership plans, multi-agency partners are informed about how various projects and plans link.

Senior leaders have provided commitment to the reducing parental conflict agenda and are proactive in ensuring that reducing parental conflict is linked to plans and emerging strategy. For instance, the RPC steering group strategy development has been linked to a Children’s Social Care project to ensure that appropriate relationship support is accessible to families to reduce the risk of infants becoming looked after by the local authority.

What worked well and what we would recommend

Our recommendations for others would be to ensure the following are in place.

  • Clear lines of communication with the senior leadership team are established across partnership organisations.
  • A dedicated delivery lead is accountable to the senior leadership team.
  • There are agreed and supported multi-agency plans in place, with clear timescales.
  • Specific methods of assessing, monitoring and evaluating progress of multi-agency plans are agreed.

The future

Our multi-agency training programme and partnership working has enabled an increased number of professionals to confidently support parents to see the impact of poorly resolved arguments and recognise where they can develop healthier ways to disagree and resolve differences.

Our work to sustain support for practitioners and families is continuing to grow this year:

  • We are in the process of incorporating reducing parental conflict into future development of an Early Help offer to Wirral families. Establishing meaningful relationships was identified in our recent ‘Why Community Matters’ report as a key area where Wirral families felt early help services should support them, and we are planning to incorporate practical advice, emotional support and clear information on how to develop healthy parental relationships into our Early Help offer.
  • Building upon insights from this report we are currently testing innovative models of connecting families to support at the earliest opportunity. We are piloting a referral-free, threshold-free coaching offer (delivered via video conferencing platforms), with learning being embedded into the future model of Early Help. In the first month, 35% of the individuals requesting a coach identified that they would like support around relationships, highlighting the importance of healthy relationships in overcoming the everyday challenges that families face.
  • We have identified opportunities to link the Wirral and Liverpool City Region domestic abuse strategy with the reducing parental conflict agenda, and we plan to start new partnerships.
  • Local services for adult substance dependency support— Wirral Ways to Recovery — are part of the multi-agency steering group and are committed to embedding healthy relationships into practice. They plan to incorporate ‘Key Themes’ of reducing parental conflict and healthy relationships into adult substance dependency training programmes, to help parents understand the impact of unresolved parental conflict and unhealthy relationships on children and young people.
  • Having consulted over 3,000 young people across Wirral, we have started collaborating with young people, voluntary, community and faith organisations as well as local authority youth services to develop a ‘Curriculum for Life’, which will incorporate the key themes of developing healthy relationships and will use both group forums and apps to support learning and engagement for young people.    
  • We have also begun, with the support of EIF, to develop an evaluation plan to assess the early progress made in embedding healthy relationships and reducing parental conflict. This will help us to determine where we are most and least effective, and where we should focus limited resource and commissioning opportunities.
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