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Strengthening Families, Protecting Children: Family Valued Pilot Evaluation Report

This pilot evaluation explores early implementation of the Family Valued Model in Darlington.

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Summary

This report presents findings from a pilot evaluation of the Family Valued Model in Darlington. This was commissioned by the Department for Education as part of the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children (SFPC) programme. 

Family Valued is a whole system approach to children’s safeguarding. This involves training in Restorative Practice, Family Group Conference (FGC) services established or expanded, a review of existing local systems and new restorative services commissioned to address gaps in provision.

Objectives

This pilot aimed to provide early insights into the rollout of Family Valued and inform the next phase of the evaluation by asking three key research questions.

  1. Evidence of Feasibility i.e. Can the intervention be delivered as intended, is it acceptable to those delivering and receiving it, and what are the contextual facilitators and barriers?
  2. Evidence of Promise i.e. What evidence is there that the intervention mechanism operates as expected and that it can have a positive impact on outcomes?
  3. Readiness for Trial i.e. How consistently can the intervention be delivered and is the programme sufficiently codified to operate at scale?

How we went about it

We collected data through:

  • Interviews, focus groups and a survey of staff across children’s services 
  • Interviews with families
  • Observations of social work practice
  • Administrative data about intervention delivery

Key findings

Many elements of the Family Valued model were implemented as planned in Darlington, even in the context of a global pandemic. Staff were largely positive about Family Valued and families largely had positive experiences with the FGC service and Edge of Care service (Keeping Families Together).

The FGC service was expanded with a newly appointed Advanced Practitioner to lead the service. The Edge of Care service was also expanded and the Front Door was reformed to reduce changes in Social Workers for families. Relational and restorative Advanced Practitioners were appointed and delivered bespoke training to staff.

Practitioners reported using reflective practice and working more restoratively with families, supported by reflective supervision. Some teams, such as Early Help, reported already practising in a strengths-based or restorative approach. Practitioners working in Child Protection found it to be a bigger culture change. Staff expected to benefit from continued training and support to embed the model over time.

A central mechanism to the model was improved communication and relationship building with families. A whole system approach to culture change was also reported to be important. Potential benefits of Family Valued identified by staff and families included better quality practice and de-escalation of statutory involvement. This evidence is anecdotal at this point, and not evidence of impact.

Implications

This evaluation only captures the early stages of implementation of the Family Valued Model. Interpretation of findings from this pilot evaluation should also consider that delivery of Family Valued in Darlington was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on what worked well in Darlington as well as ways in which delivery could be improved, when introducing Family Valued in a new area, local decision-makers should:

  • Ensure training from the intervention developer is tailored to staff specialisms and includes opportunities to observe practice, and that a comprehensive training and information programme is delivered to partners. 
  • Appoint key local roles to support and champion local rollout of the model. 
  • Introduce restorative referral processes at the Front Door and for referral to restorative services such as FGC. 
  • Provide clear communication about integration with existing practice models. 
  • Ensure FGC core principles are adhered to, but also consider virtual communication with family members who might ordinarily be harder to involve. 
  • Mitigate against potential unintended consequences by back-filling posts after internal recruitment to new roles and ensuring sufficient capacity for teams taking on additional work as a result of reforms.

To ensure longer-term sustainability of Family Valued, local decision-makers should:

  • Focus on creating an organisation-wide culture change, with buy-in from managers and leaders, to help staff, particularly those working in Child Protection, to embrace and feel confident working restoratively. 
  • Deliver continued modelling at a leadership level, as well as continued training, regular communications and development of further guidance to support embedding of Restorative Practice.

Next steps

An impact evaluation being led by What Works for Children’s Social Care is now being undertaken in five local authorities. This will consider the impact of Family Valued on the likelihood of children being looked after. Details are set out in our trial protocol.