Improving Futures – the journey so far
Today sees the launch of a new evaluation report on Improving Futures– a £31m programme to improve outcomes for children living in families with multiple and complex needs. James Ronicle, Senior Research Manager at Ecorys UK, summarises the main findings from the report.
Last year Professor Kate Morris (University of Sheffield) and I traveled to Manchester to meet some of the families involved in Improving Futures.
There are 26 projects across the country, from Portsmouth up to Dundee via Cardiff and Belfast. We spoke to families who had traveled to Manchester from a range of projects. For one parent it was the first time she had been on a plane and the first time she had left her son at home, so it was quite a nerve-wracking affair!
Many of the families we met, and many more supported by the Improving Futures projects, live difficult lives. We have collected data on 4,000 of the families supported (over 7,000 have been supported in total). This shows us that:
• Around three out of five families are headed up by single parents.
• Nearly four out of five receive free school meals – often a sign that a family is struggling to make ends meet.
• Nearly two thirds of the children, all aged under 10, have behavioural difficulties.
So it didn’t come as a surprise to hear about the stress and anxiety some of the parents, and children, experience. But perhaps what is surprising is that many of the families had previously received very little support; they were families that were ‘getting by’. As one parent said to us, “We thought we were normal – it was my normal”.
And this is where the Improving Futures projects have really helped. Many have set up in universal services, such as schools, GP surgeries and children’s centres, and offer the support to these families that they have never had before. This could be parenting advice, emotional support or help in accessing other services that they need.
And our evaluation has found what a difference this has made. The number of families with children with persistent, disruptive and violent behaviour has halved, and the number of families with parenting and anxiety and frustration has fallen by a third.
One family we met described how much value she got from visiting the project and meeting other families in a similar situation to her:
“Sometimes being a parent can be very lonely. Some of these parents – the people they communicate with in the service – are probably the only people they come into contact with. And they go back to their private and lonely living, but they have actually taken away some energy with them…A happy parent makes a happy child. And you look forward to coming back.”
The Improving Futures programme has been set up to run for five years to test approaches to tackling specific issues. Therefore, as the five years are coming to an end, the projects are now making plans for their next steps. Some have already received further funding for some parts of their projects.
The big question for all early intervention projects like these is, to what extent do these changes continue once the support has ended? We have been following over 150 families for 2 years since their support began, and in March next year we can share how they have done over this time. If you’d like to come to the launch of our final report next year to hear more, email us at: Improvingfutures@ecorys.com.
Find out more about Improving Futures.
If you’d like to know more about the Improving Futures programme you can visit the website.