This report presents findings from a pilot evaluation of the the Thriving Babies: Confident Parents (TBCP) programme, an initiative designed and delivered by Manchester City Council, involving a multi-agency partnership of local authority children’s services (Early Help and Social Care) and two voluntary sector providers, Barnardo’s and Home-Start. The programme aims to intervene early and support parents of babies and infants, both pre- and post-birth, in cases where the (prospective) parents are recognised as having specific vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities include learning difficulties; mental ill-health; domestic abuse; substance misuse; social isolation; being in care or a care leaver; or having had a child previously removed from their care. Practitioners work proactively with parents to build upon their strengths, develop their parenting skills, reduce risk and promote family resilience and parent wellbeing.
The programme was evaluated by the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University and took place between May 2021 and June 2022. The aim of the evaluation was to explore the key elements of TBCP, the programme’s feasibility, and its evidence of promise with reference to the key aims of the project. The evaluators sought to explore not only whether the model seemed to work, but also in what circumstances, for whom, why, and to what extent. The evaluation was implemented in a collaborative manner, working with TBCP partners to generate the best learning about what works.
It must be noted that the pilot took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a significant impact on delivery and the evaluation. This is an important caveat to the findings.
The evaluation was designed to answer the following questions:
- How feasible is it to deliver the Thriving Babies: Confident Parents (TBCP) programme?
- To what extent, how, for whom, and in what circumstances does the TBCP programme show promise in engaging high-risk babies/families; and providing better coordinated, culturally attuned services (including to meet adult as well as child needs) and assessments?
- To what extent, how, for whom and in what circumstances does the TBCP programme, or aspects of it, show promise from the perspective of families, staff and other professional stakeholders in relation to promoting a range of key outcomes such as: secure child and parent attachments, improved parenting capacity, including parental attunement to babies’ needs, increased early permanency for vulnerable infants etc.?
The pilot evaluation was undertaken from May 2021 to August 2022. The evaluators adopted a mixed methods approach, drawing upon quantitative as well as qualitative data. The evaluation used a range of methods, including:
- Secondary analysis of whole cohort and administrative data
- Collection and analysis of outcome measures on parent–infant attachment and parenting confidence
- Child and family case file sampling
- Semi-structured interviews with programme participants and stakeholders.
The evaluation of this multidisciplinary, intensive and perinatal support for parents with high-level vulnerabilities has demonstrated that:
- A programme of this nature is feasible in terms of its swift and successful implementation within a local authority area
- The Thriving Babies: Confident Parents model has provided effective multidisciplinary and culturally attuned support for parents and families presenting with high risks and relatively complex needs
- The Thriving Babies: Confident Parents model demonstrates strong, triangulated evidence of promise in terms of its potential for positive impact on children and families. This has been demonstrated by an increase in positive parenting practices, improved parental understanding of their infant’s needs, more secure child-parent attachments, and a reduction in parent risk factors
- The programme has highlighted some of the benefits of starting work with vulnerable parents early within their pregnancy, enabling practitioners to encourage parental attunement to their infant, reduce risks, and promote positive future planning
- The programme appeared to offer effective support and the promise of positive outcomes for a varied group of parents in terms of both level of need and previous experience, and in different circumstances.
The evaluation suggests that this pilot programme has been well implemented and has started to become consolidated in Manchester. The programme has demonstrated strong evidence of promise in terms of its impact. With regard to the implementation of a model of this kind, the pilot study highlighted the importance of:
- Having a clear model with defined aims and desired outcomes
- Early and sustained messaging and “publicity” about the model across all statutory and partner services. It is important that this does not only take place at the beginning of the programme
- Sustained leadership support for implementation, beyond a short pilot phase and into “mainstreaming”
- Having a multidisciplinary panel as a platform to “receive” referrals, hold multidisciplinary discussions about, and undertake detailed planning in relation to, individual families
- Highly committed staff who have the capacity to engage effectively with parents in the cohort, to work effectively with children’s social care services (as well as a range of partner organisations), and to learn new skills
- Regular, high-quality supervision for operational staff
- Regular review and monitoring of outcomes for children and families.