This case example is part of Early Intervention Foundation's (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 Walsall’s story about how they designed a survey and collected data to map the skills and level of confidence of their workforce, and how the analysis of the data informed their training offer.
Our starting point
Walsall is a metropolitan borough located in the West Midlands. One in three children aged 16 years and under are living in low-income families, which is higher than the national average of one in five (HMRC, 2016). The high and increasing levels of child poverty puts additional demands on our services in Walsall, including for parental relationship support.
Since June 2019 we have rolled out a reducing parental conflict training offer, initially face-to-face and then virtually throughout the pandemic. Training is open to a wide range of participants including front line practitioners, senior leaders, and multi-agency professionals working in a variety of roles across public, voluntary and community services, for whom increased awareness will lead to greater identification of opportunities for early intervention. The training aims to raise awareness of what constitutes destructive parental conflict and how it is different to domestic abuse, explore the evidence base for parental conflict and the impacts on children and detail the support available for families.
In the summer of 2020, we applied to be part of EIF’s reducing parental conflict local evaluation support offer. Since reducing parental conflict was a new area of focus for us, it was not clear who the key stakeholders were and how they would respond to the new training offer. We were also uncertain about the current skill level of the workforce and whether the training was having a positive influence on their skills and confidence for supporting families with parental conflict. We worked with EIF to gather, analyse and interpret workforce data in the first phase of our evaluation project.
The action we took
During the planning stages for this phase of our reducing parental conflict evaluation project and with EIF’s support, we set out some key research questions which we intended to explore:
- Who are the key stakeholders involved in reducing parental conflict in Walsall?
- What is the awareness of parental conflict among stakeholders?
- What is the reach and availability of the current training offer in Walsall?
- What skills do staff within the workforce working on reducing parental conflict have?
- How confident are practitioners delivering parental conflict support in Walsall?
- What do stakeholders think Walsall should focus on next to reduce parental conflict?
As we wanted to collect information directly from the workforce in a systematic way within a short-time frame, with EIF's advice we decided to use a short online survery which included:
- a definition for ‘parental conflict’ and a brief overview of research on parental conflict.
- 15 questions which covered the following topics: contextual information about respondent’s service or organisation; awareness of parental conflict; views on training and support available in Walsall; confidence and skill in supporting parents with relationship issues; and suggestions for what Walsall should be focusing on next.
We used a Microsoft Teams Form to collect data because we were familiar with the platform and it complied with data security standards. Our voluntary and community sector partner, OneWalsall, then sent out the survey to private, statutory and voluntary sector organisations via email. We asked OneWalsall to send out the survey as we thought they would get a higher response rate due to their wide network of stakeholders.
In total, 115 respondents completed the survey from a range of services providing a comprehensive insight into the workforce across different services, with the majority from children’s services and education. Once the data collection process was completed, we downloaded the survey data into an Excel spreadsheet to prepare it for analysis.
What we achieved
The data analysis helped us to obtain a more accurate understanding of the skills and confidence of the workforce providing reducing parental conflict support, and were used when planning our next steps.
We found that there was a good level of awareness of parental conflict among stakeholders, but practitioner tools were not being utilised post-training. As a result we split the training offer into two separate strands which focus on awareness of parental conflict separately to the use of practitioner tools and available parenting interventions.
We found that there were mixed skill and confidence levels of the workforce in relation to reducing parental conflict, but that those who had completed the training were more likely to be confident. As a result we are now delivering a Black Country Partnership (BCP) levelled model of reducing parental conflict training, which includes free awareness training to all partners and colleagues working with children, young people and their families across the Black Country. A Black Country toolkit has also been produced for practitioners to use when supporting families with parental conflict.
We found there was a low level of awareness among services other than the local authority’s Children’s Services. To increase awareness of the reducing parental conflict training offer we invited senior managers and leaders within the Black Country Partnership to the reducing parental conflict Black Country launch. One of the aims of the event was to introduce reducing parental conflict training, tools and development offer available to the workforce.
Survey responses gave some common messages about what Walsall should focus on next to reduce parental conflict, including the continuation of practitioner training, improved communication between partners, developing a clear referral pathway, and improving access to early intervention for children at risk of experiencing poor outcomes including poor mental health. As a result, we set out to develop a local theory of change to support our system-wide approach to reducing parental conflict.
What worked well and what we would recommend
Writing research questions during the planning stages was useful because they helped us to focus on what data would be needed and how it would be analysed.
It was important to keep the survey as short as possible as from our experience, shorter surveys keep respondents engaged and have higher completion rates. Our survey was designed to only collect data that was necessary to answer the research questions. We decided to have no more than 15 questions so that it took less than 15 minutes to complete. We also used mostly closed-ended questions, where respondents select one or more answers from a pre-defined list.
We used a small number of open questions, where respondents expressed their views in their own words. This brought a richness to the data and helped us to understand wider views on what Walsall should be focusing on to support the reducing parental conflict agenda in the future.
More generally, mapping the local workforce could be a useful exercise for local areas who have received the workforce development grant and would like to understand how to use it with practitioners across their local area.
This was the first phase of our reducing parental conflict evaluation project, which was split into four phases:
- Map the local workforce
- Write local reducing parental conflict theory of change setting out key outcomes
- a) Decide which interventions to evaluate; b) Write intervention logic model
- a) Write Evaluation plan specifying research questions and methods; b) Plan, collect, analyse and interpret evaluation data; c) Use of evaluation data
Findings from the local workforce mapping in phase 1 were used as supporting evidence when developing our theory of change in phase 2. The process of developing a theory of change, including how we used different sources of evidence such as findings from the workforce survey, is outlined in our second case study which will be published separately.
Georgina Atkins is parenting lead for Early Help, Walsall Council and Helen Burridge is research officer at the Early Intervention Foundation.