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Public sector should offer more relationship support services

Relationship support services should do more to reach out to economically disadvantaged families, with a significant lack of provision in the public sector compared to other countries, a new report by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) suggests.

The report, ‘Inter-parental relationship support services available in the UK: Rapid review of evidence’, found that the current level and availability of services were more commonly used by homeowners in paid employment who self-refer, potentially isolating low-income families who are more likely to suffer stress and relationship breakdown.

The study, which synthesised the findings of 15 research papers written over the last decade, recommends that relationship support services should be embedded in mainstream public sector services like schools, health and housing so families at risk can be helped earlier.

Carey Oppenheim, chief executive of the EIF, said: “There is a great deal of potential to better embed a focus on inter-parental relationships within statutory services, such as schools, health and housing services – in particular, how to intervene early to prevent relationship difficulties between parents before they become severe and entrenched and impact on children.

“The idea of supporting parent relationships as a means of positively improving child wellbeing and parenting is still in its infancy, and has not yet been adopted by most service providers and commissioners.”

She added that there is a concerted effort to be made by central and local government and service providers “to ensure that both suitable funding and support is available to cater to the needs of a greater diversity of users, including those who could potentially benefit most”.

The report found that relationship support services in the UK are predominately delivered through the voluntary and community sector, by providers which are often financially insecure or struggling to meet demand, rather than the public sector.

These existing services often underserve key groups such as BME and LGBT couples, separated and single parents and fathers, with the report suggesting that services should be specifically targeted to these groups.

Some of the many reasons that certain people don’t access relationship services include social stigma, poor awareness and accessibility, the report finds.

EIF also recommended that relationship support services should do more to recognise child as well as adult outcomes, focusing on a wider range of ‘transition points’ like when a child becomes a teenager or in sudden financial hardship, and further research on how relationship support can be effectively delivered and implemented.

The Foundation hopes that the measures will help people access services to prevent future problems in well-functioning relationships, rather than when they are already at the point of relationship breakdown.

A report from the EIF last month found that it is costing local councils £6.4bn a year to deal with ‘late intervention’ on damaging social problems which might have been addressed more cheaply earlier on, with the vast majority of this spending on children in care (£5.3bn).

(Image c. David Cheskin PA Images)

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