Family Law Hub

DWP publishes evaluation of help for separated families projects

Report looks at the progress of 17 services funded by the department and finds that they need to find ways to sustain their impact

  • The DWP has published an evaluation of 17 projects funded under their Help and Support for Separated Families programme. The programme forms part of a set of reforms to help parents collaborate in the best interests of their children. 

    The projects varied in the services provided and were broadly categorised as either

    • talk-based services involving mediation or a therapeutic intervention;
    • information-based services providing legal advice, information and signposting; and
    • projects to assist with contact arrangements for non-resident parents.

    Broadly, the research looked at what each project had done to get started and market their services and then assessed what parents felt about the services and the longer term outcome.

    Some of the key findings are set out below

    Referrals and marketing

    • Projects found it difficult to estimate how many clients would take up their service. 
    • When marketing directly to clients, projects found it most effective to produce targeted marketing, such as leaflets for other agencies to give out, rather than blanket marketing such as local newspapers or social media.
    • considerable resources are required to market to intermediaries to sustain awareness and referrals long term for new services
    Service provision

    • Flexibility in the type and timing of provision was seen as highly desirable 
    • Friends and family could sometimes be a barrier to success if they were influencing one partner negatively, but the children's grandparents were found in one project to be a positive influence among young clients if they were brought into the sessions.
    • Among information-based projects those offering legal advice could increase client confidence, but there was a high level of drop off after receiving this advice – relatively few parents went on to use the counselling and group work on offer.
    • Services offering web-based advice could provide high quality information accessible at times to suit clients. Also a web-chat facility worked well for clients who preferred some 'distance' when talking about sensitive issues.
    • All of the projects required more staff time for administration than originally envisaged.

    Participant experience

    • Parents engaging in talk-based projects were very enthusiastic, feeling they had improved communication, had a positive psychological impact improved relationships between partners and children
    • Both parents and staff felt that the interventions had reduced conflict and time spent in the courts. The only exception seemed to be when mediation began a long time after a conflicted separation where the courts were already heavily involved.
    • Clients of information-based services welcomed the legal advice for the breadth of information on offer, the way it helped inform choices and the signposting to other services.
    • Most participants, across all income groups, felt that they would not have been able to pay for the service in full. Those receiving legal advice said they would have probably sought the advice of a solicitor separately if the project's legal advice was chargeable. Staff agreed and were concerned that charges could act as a barrier to engagement and add delays to uptake.


    • Of the 13 projects that measured parental collaboration at the start and end of the intervention, nine showed statistically significant improvements. However, when measured seven months after the start of the intervention, collaboration levels had fallen back somewhat and projects could benefit from considering ways of sustaining their impact.
    • Parents with shared care arrangements were significantly less happy with their contact arrangement than either parents with care or non-resident parents, showing that it is not only the amount of contact that matters, but also the co-operation around that contact.
    • While parents engaging with projects tended to see an improvement in contact arrangements, the projects had less impact on child maintenance arrangements (although they were not always the focus of the intervention).
    It was also noted that none of the services could be sustained without DWP funding.

    A more detailed set of findings and the projects involved can be found in the full report available here.

News, published: 26/09/2016


Published: 26/09/2016


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