This case study describes how Doncaster adapted their local system approach to parental conflict by focusing on how drug and alcohol services could reduce the impact of relationship distress on children.
The story of this project is told by Alison Tomes, Locality Manager for Early Help Services at Doncaster Council, and Dr Pippa Davie, Local Development Advisor at Foundations. Written by Robyn Tulloch, Project Support Officer and Olivia Martin, Local Development Advisor at Foundations.
Our starting point
Doncaster had a consistent multi-agency approach to reducing conflict between parents which includes parenting relationship interventions and staff training as part of a core offer. Despite this foundation, the local lead for the RPC programme, Alison Tomes recognised that making further progress depended on securing commitment to reducing parental conflict as a priority across local partner organisations.
Alison decided to focus on how Doncaster was able to measure the impact that practitioners were having on families who were experiencing relationship distress by developing a shared outcomes framework that could be a point of reference across agencies for child and family outcomes.
We know the impact parental conflict has on children and families, we see it in our case work and case file audits. It is really important that we use this to build a strong multi-agency approach to reducing parental conflict in Doncaster.Alison Tomes – Locality Manager for Early Help Services, Doncaster Council
Actions taken and impact
Doncaster developed a project plan which included: creating a checklist of data around known parental conflict risk factors; collecting and synthesising local data to understand population needs in the local context; bringing strategic leads together to review the data and build commitment to taking action; and carrying out a support pathway mapping exercise to understand what local services were available for families experiencing relationship distress. Each of these steps followed a typical planning process which was supported by the Early Intervention Foundation (now Foundations – What Works Centre for Children & Families), and helped Alison and her team to understand which services were less engaged, and what this meant for families with unmet needs.
Things then took an unexpected turn. A second workshop was scheduled to build the draft outcomes framework. A wider group of service leads, team leaders and senior practitioners from a range of relevant partner services were invited because they had a good understanding of the local context, and an overview of design and delivery in their own service. However, attendance was limited due to capacity issues. With drug and alcohol services being well represented, the scope of the workshop was adapted to focus on the role of drug and alcohol services in relation to parental conflict. The workshop began with a conversation around parental risk factors and their impact on children, which led to an acknowledgement that parents’ use of drugs and alcohol affected child outcomes directly but also indirectly as a result of the increased likelihood of parental conflict.
The outcomes framework exercise helped to identify that drug and alcohol services collected data on parents but not on their children, and resulted in recognition that capturing data on child outcomes could lead to better understanding of how their service affects family outcomes. As a result, there was a step change in understanding the potential wider impact of the drug and alcohol service and how they could support families with relationship difficulties.
Learning from the project
Throughout the project it was clear that Doncaster had some good quality data available but faced challenges in being able to bring this together and analyse it in a way that would help them to draw meaningful conclusions about how best to reduce parental conflict. For example, a good initial population needs assessment was conducted using nationally available data sets but little service-level data was available, making it difficult to reach conclusions about local needs without engaging with services and learning from their specialist knowledge.
I thought we were quite data rich, and we do collect a lot of data but it is not consistently linked together. There is fine tuning that needs to be done to make the data meaningful and deepen the needs assessment.Alison Tomes, Locality Manager for Early Help Services, Doncaster Council
Doncaster also discovered that interventions targeting the quality of the interparental relationship focused on measuring adult outcomes, not child outcomes. As a result, the data available could not provide a clear picture of the connections between child, parent and family outcomes. This was illustrated by key adult services such as drug and alcohol services reflecting that the impact of attending services which supported relationships wasn’t captured or linked anywhere in data on referrals or assessments.
Doncaster are planning further work on the reducing parental conflict population needs assessment to get a richer understanding of the local context. This will include gathering and triangulating data on risk factors from a wide range of services, and engaging children and families to collect data on their experience of support.
This will also be supported by work on linking datasets to create one single, joined up database at an individual level across child and adult services. This linking of data should support Doncaster to develop their whole-family approach.
Finally, Doncaster will engage local services individually in exploring relationship outcomes from their perspective, using the experience from the workshop with local drug and alcohol services. The process will involve working through this step-by-step approach with each relevant service to build a comprehensive shared outcomes framework over time.
Read more reducing parental conflict case examples on our legacy site eif.org.uk.