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Culturally attuned family support in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead

Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme Evaluation Report 30

The Innovation Programme in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has explored the value of providing culturally attuned family support in Army and Pakistani Muslim communities, in particular for families who, without such support, might require a statutory Child in Need or Child Protection Plan in the future.

Research to date has identified significant barriers to Pakistani Muslim families accessing support when it is needed, including in particular:

  • language and communication barriers
  • a lack of awareness or information about where to go to for help
  • a sense that services won’t be sufficiently sensitive to the family’s cultural needs

Baseline research undertaken with Pakistani community groups and community leaders in Windsor and Maidenhead immediately prior to the launch of this innovation confirmed these 3 barriers as being particularly significant, and also identified some others: fear of officialdom, including losing one’s children into care; worries about the stigma of being seen to need help; and potential opposition from extended family members.

Previous research into barriers for Army families to accessing family support has emphasised similar issues, namely:

  • Army families’ isolation from and lack of awareness about local services
  • a sense of shame or weakness associated with seeking help, particularly where it relates to relationship issues or domestic abuse

Baseline research with Army community groups and leaders undertaken for this innovation programme identified the following barriers: isolation from services (because of frequent family moves and distance from camp to town); a lack of certainty about the future, making it difficult to commit to support; practical difficulties such as child care; concerns about the impact of seeking help on a (partner’s) Army career; lack of knowledge about services; a sense that professionals don’t understand what it’s like to be ‘married to the Army’; and internalised cultural norms described frequently by Army Mums as ‘you made your bed, now you lie in it’.

The Windsor and Maidenhead Innovation Programme has been developed and delivered in partnership between the local authority and an established local charity, Family Friends. Between September 2015 and June 2016 this partnership offered targeted 1:1 family support to approximately 90 Army and Asian families. The targeted support was embedded in open access community-based activities, including 167 regular parenting groups, whole family events and workshops, recorded during a key 6 month delivery period between January and June 2016, and involving 668 families. The project has been delivered primarily through 2 multi-disciplinary hubs of culturally matched social workers, family support workers, and community engagement workers working holistically with families with a range of support needs, and their communities.

The 2 main aims of the pilot project were to:

  • improve the engagement of these communities with early help services, thereby strengthening the acceptability and accessibility of these services; and
  • improve the acceptability and effectiveness of targeted early help, particularly for families with chronic problems, thereby safely reducing the need for a statutory intervention,including by addressing the likely key barriers to family engagement with services.

Whilst there were excellent strides taken in the early stages, a full realisation of the project, and evaluation of it, have been hindered by problems experienced approximately 6 months into implementation, mainly in the form of (agency) social workers leaving to gain employment elsewhere. This problem illustrates a broader question about the extent to which these kinds of innovations can be fully tested in a relatively short period of time (of 12 months or less) with workers who are brought in for the purpose, rather than those already involved in existing service provision.

This realistic (Pawson and Tilley 1997) and mixed method evaluation from the Institute of Public Care has explored the extent to which the intended programme outcomes have been achieved in the context of different stages of the programme lifetime. This has been done with reference to case file analysis; secondary analysis of data collected by the delivery partners; interviews with families and community leaders involved either directly or peripherally; and interviews with staff involved where possible.