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Evaluating an innovative programme that supports vulnerable first time parents

The Department for Education has published its second round report on its Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, and IPC has been heavily involved in the evaluation of the scheme.

In Calderdale, the IPC evaluation of Positive Choices found that intensive, structured support ‘works’ for care experienced and other vulnerable first time parents - in particular when it starts early in pregnancy.

Key findings were that:

Intensive programmes replicating Positive Choices have the potential to significantly improve child to parent attachment and parenting skills, and to reduce risk factors for abuse and neglect. Where parents engage well, longer-term outcomes, such as parents’ resilience, are more sustainable compared with those of parents accessing more traditional supports.

  • First time very vulnerable parents receiving Positive Choices-style support pre-birth (as opposed to only a children’s social care services’ pre-birth assessment) are more likely to respond positively compared with those who receive the same type of support at or post-birth. Around the time of a child’s birth appears to be the worst time to commence support.
  • However, intensive programmes like Positive Choices are likely also to identify unacceptable levels of risk to children at an earlier stage (understandably so given that the target participant group is known to be vulnerable or very vulnerable). Therefore, commissioners and service leaders might not expect to see a significant reduction in the number of children needing to come into care in the first 6-12 months of their life. The main (cost) benefit of programmes like Positive Choices would appear to be in reducing the incidence of subsequent (including repeat) referrals into social care services for parents who ‘keep their babies’ in the first months of life but whose care may begin to break down at a later stage.
  • Although it was originally envisaged that the Positive Choices Programme would be required mostly for first-time parents who are care experienced (looked after or care leavers), in practice many young people who have experienced children’s social care as a child but who did not come into care were found to be at least as vulnerable as their care-experienced peers. The implications are that they should receive as much attention and support in transition to and during early adulthood, at the very least if and when they become a parent for the first time.

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