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Understanding what makes the difference for vulnerable families

19 February 2015

In this blog, James Ronicle, Senior Research Manager from Ecorys UK, discusses lessons learnt from the Making a Difference for Vulnerable Families: Evidence into Policy and Practice event, which was partly funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

Delegates at the Making a Difference for Vulnerable Families event

Delegates at the event

In my last blog I highlighted the work Big Lottery Fund, and others, are doing to help vulnerable families. I also looked at how do we know what works? And once these programmes have finished, what should we expand on?

We held an event to bring together practitioners, researches and policy-makers to answer these questions. It was hosted by Ecorys UK, Big Lottery Fund, University of Nottingham, Parenting UK and Ipsos MORI

Some of the great speakers, who are leading the way in this area, included:
Naomi Eisenstadt, describing the biggest challenges facing vulnerable families.
• James Ronicle from Ecorys UK, discussing the latest evaluation from the Big Lottery Fund’s Improving Futures programme.
• Miriam Minty from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), providing an update on the government’s Troubled Families programme.
Saul Becker, raising people’s awareness of young carers.

On the day projects had the chance to showcase their work to delegates.

Four main ideas arose from the day:

1. It’s all about love and money
Naomi Eisenstadt summarised that the key drivers for achieving change within families are “love and money – the key risk on everything is not having a job, not having money – and the key protector on everything is having friends and family”.

2. Vulnerable families’ lives are complex, and there is large degree of unmet need
Research presented on the day highlighted the range and complexity of help still needed. As work with families in adversity has gathered pace so we have started to understand the scale of the problems facing families and the challenge in making a lasting change.

3. Relationships are key
Building respectful relationships was key to many of the approaches discussed. Listening to families, involving them in planning their services and respecting their strengths while understanding their needs were a common theme. Research highlighted how the key worker role was vital in achieving this – coordinating all their support, helping them gain access to other services and acting as an advocate for the family.

4. A lot has been achieved, but more needs to be done
Research highlighted the positive change that has been achieved within families, including better wellbeing, closer relationships, improved parenting skills and increased school attendance. However, a common message of the day was that less progress had been made in other areas, especially in supporting mental health problems.

There is much still to learn, but the day made an important contribution to ensuring knowledge and best practice is shared and developed.

The event learning booklet includes videos of the keynote speakers and slides from the workshops.

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