Supporting couple relationships: new Tavistock evaluation

Supporting couple relationships: new Tavistock evaluation

TIHR evaluates national Relationship Support services, including couple counselling, relationship education for first time-parents and marriage preparation.

TIHR evaluates national Relationship Support services, including couple counselling, relationship education for first time-parents and marriage preparation.

In April 2011 the Department for Education awarded funding to a range of relationship support initiatives for couples as part of the Government’s major new funding commitment of ᆪ30million over four years for relationship support. Supporting relationships is a priority of the Coalition Government’s Child Poverty strategy, stemming from the belief that ‘children who grow up in strong, stable families with quality relationships in the home, stand the best chance of a positive future’(1). It stems from the premise that parenting, the home environment and relationships, especially in the early years of a child’s development, are essential to improving child outcomes and also to reducing child poverty(2).

Family policy in the UK has traditionally focused on the parent-child relationship, such as greater access to parenting interventions. Whilst access to parenting support is still seen as important, this new investment denotes a shift in emphasis towards the parents’ own relationship. The assumption is that preventing relationship breakdown, or encouraging a positive relationship between couples already separated, will significantly improve outcomes for children.

Nearly a quarter of all children living the UK have experienced their parents splitting up(3). There is well-documented evidence of the far reaching emotional, social and financial problems that can result from family breakdown. Children’s psychological well-being, self-esteem, behaviour, friendships and schooling can be negatively affected especially if the separation and its aftermath are acrimonious (4). Family crisis and breakdown can also lead to economic disadvantage for children, given the increased risk of parents dropping out of the labour market, difficulty finding affordable housing with only one income, and problems getting a job that is able to accommodate childcare arrangements.

Couple counselling services are a key to this new initiative, including those delivered nationally by Relate, Marriage Care, The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships (TCCR) and the Asian Family Counselling Service (AFCS). The government is also funding Care for the Family to roll-out Let’s Stick Together, a relationship education session delivered mainly to first-time parents. It also contributes to funding Marriage Preparation courses delivered across the UK by the charity Marriage Care.

The aims of this initiative are to:

  • Improve attitudes towards relationship support services;
  • Change attitudes towards accessing relationship support services in the future;
  • Increase awareness of, and use of, relationship strengthening behaviours;
  • Improve the well-being of parents and their children.

We have been commissioned to lead the evaluation of these three relationship support interventions, combining a robust quantitative methodology to assess the impact and value for money, alongside qualitative studies to explore the experiences of couples and practitioners. Impact will be measured in relation to relationship quality, communication, well-being, and attitudes towards help-seeking. We are working in partnership with the Thomas Coram Research Unit, the National Foundation for Educational Research and Qa Research.

The approaches taken for the evaluations include:

  • Couple Counselling: a quasi-experimental RCT design to compare the impact of face-face and telephone counselling provided by Relate. It will also explore the effectiveness of counselling provided by Marriage Care using a longitudinal survey design. There will be an in-depth qualitative study of parents’ experiences that also involves TCCR and the AFCS.
  • Let’s Stick Together: a longitudinal survey design of couples before receiving the intervention and then 3 months later. There will also be a qualitative study to explore parents’ experiences in greater depth.
  • Marriage Preparation: a quasi-experimental design to compare the effect of the marriage preparation programme ‘Preparing Together’ with the alternative ‘FOCCUS’ intervention. As with the other evaluations, there will also be a qualitative study exploring the views of couples using both interventions.

These evaluations follow on from our recent evaluation of Child Poverty Pilots: Delivering Improved Support for Separating Parents (2011) for the Department for Education which researched couple relationships and family separation. To read the evaluation report please see here.

For more information about the evaluation of the Relationship Support Interventions, please contact Thomas Spielhofer, Senior Researcher on T.Spielhofer@tavinstitute.org or +44 (0)207 417 0407.

(1) DWP and DfE. (2011). A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tacking the Causes of Disadvantage and Transforming Families’ Lives. Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Education: London. p.36. Available here.

(2) Field F. (2010). The Foundation Years: Preventing Poor Children Becoming Poor Adults. The Report of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances. HM Government: London. Available here.

(3) ONS. (2012). Lone Parents with Dependent Children, 2001 to 2011. Office for National Statistics: London. Available here.

(4) Mooney A., Oliver C. and Smith M. (2009). The Impact of Family breakdown on Children’s Wellbeing. Thomas Coram Research Unit for Department for Children School and Families. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education for Department for Children Schools and Families: London.

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