This study, for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, explored the role played in the Every Child Matters agenda, by the voluntary and community sector in England as a key provider in supporting parents, carers and families.
The significance of parenting in improving outcomes for children became central to family policy with the launch of Every Child Matters: Change for Children in 2004. Providing assistance to parents and families to support them in bringing up their children at specific times or through preventative support is an important part of Government policy. Support is currently supplied by a range of providers from the statutory, voluntary and community sectors.
This study, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) explored the role played specifically by the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in England as a key provider in supporting parents, carers and families under the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda.
The main aims were:
- to map services for parents and families provided by the statutory, voluntary, community and other third sector services in a sample of 15 local authorities (LAs) in England;
- to map services for parents and families provided by 10 large national organisations in the voluntary sector;
- to explore the extent to which the local and national VCS services aligned with the five objectives set out in the Every Child Matters agenda.
Methodology – There were three elements to the study:
A map of local services. In the 15 LAs selected, all parenting services provided by all sectors which met the research definition of support were recorded from public sources of information and verified by the services. A total of 1,012 services were mapped, ranging from 36 in the smallest area to 162 in the largest. Services were classified according to their type of provision.
Interviews with service providers:
Information on service provision and the degree of alignment with the ECM agenda was gained through telephone interviews with a senior member of staff in each of the 10 selected national organisations and a manager in each of the 257 VCS services identified in the LAs.
Links between services:
A mapping spreadsheet of local services was sent to a contact person in each of the voluntary services who was asked to specify their level of involvement with other services on the list.The extent to which services worked to the ECM agenda was measured using the evidence indicators supplied in the ECM Outcomes Framework. Each of the five outcomes- be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well-being- has several pieces of evidence by which the contribution of services to improving outcomes is judged.
There was considerable variation in the proportion of family support services provided by the VCS in the 15 local authorities. Most, and especially those in large geographical areas, felt they were insufficiently resourced.The VCS services with the largest number of users were usually located in areas with the highest populations. However, in some rural areas with large populations most services had a relatively small number of users.
There was little support for fathers and Black and minority ethnic families, either specifically or through inclusion in wider service provision. Services which focused on the parents of children with disabilities were most numerous but they were also the most likely to have a small number of users and to be without paid staff.
The voluntary sector was more versatile than the statutory sector in terms of providing a service which used different approaches and offered different types of support.
VCS services varied in their level of awareness of and contact with other services and were not as consistent as statutory services at engaging in groups or joint working. VCS disability-related services reported limited awareness of and very few links with other services working in their sector. Services in areas where there was little participation in groups also tended to undertake the least amount of joint working. This was especially, the case in rural areas where there were typically many small services. Local services which were part of larger national organisations were also not always well linked with other local services.
Most local and national voluntary services found the ECM framework a useful tool, both in assessing their work and providing information to funders. However, 29% of them (mainly smaller services) did not work to the ECM agenda or with the associated framework, either through lack of knowledge (20%) or in the belief that it was not relevant to their work (9%). It was suggested that DCSF might wish to consider investing resources in providing training for smaller VCS organisations to increase their knowledge and awareness of the ECM agenda and how it has relevance to their services. Providing them with sufficient funding to allow them to attend such training without this having a deleterious effect on service provision was also suggested.
Funding period: September 2007 to June 2008
Contact: Judy Corlyon