In times like these, when families can feel strained by the additional pressures the current pandemic is placing upon them, the number of children exposed to intense parental conflict is likely to grow. Our recent report, for instance, identified that almost three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed from local authorities believe parental conflict has increased, to at least some extent, since the national lockdown. Although this finding is mainly based on anecdotal evidence, we know from our What Works review that this situation is likely to be harmful not only for parents but also for children, because parental conflict can have damaging impact on children’s outcomes, and can last a lifetime.
It follows that supporting local authorities to develop an effective local response to increased demand for relationship support has additional relevance in these uncertain times. To support the sharing of learning among local authorities and their partners, and scale up the focus on healthy parental relationships, Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is hosting a Healthy Relationships Week, starting today.
This will shine a spotlight on local progress in improving outcomes for children, by tackling conflict between parents. The sector has shown how to cope in the short term to the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic. The Healthy Relationships Week will showcase practical local responses to longstanding, and COVID-19 specific challenges, to help local authorities make these different ways of working the new business as usual.
Through webinars, blogs and case studies from local and national experts, we will discuss four important topics that are at the heart of the work to support parents and children:
- How local authorities and their partners have responded to the challenge of COVID-19 and sustained a focus on reducing parental conflict (RPC). To overcome the obstacles posed by Covid-19 and the lockdown, local authorities and their partners developed innovative and creative strategies, which sometimes made it possible to overcome longstanding blockages in partnership working. To encourage further best practice, during the Healthy Relationships Week local leaders and intervention providers will discuss the practical adaptations they have put in place to support families through the pandemic.
- Practical strategies that local authorities and their partners can use to embed a focus on healthy relationships into their everyday support for families. COVID-19 and the lockdown have provided the opportunity to begin raising awareness of parental conflict and positive relationships within local services and with partners. This has shed new light on the role that health, early years and education services can have in identifying and supporting families experiencing parental conflict. Increased connectivity and strategic partnerships can help local authorities take a whole-system approach to healthy relationships which goes beyond investment in new specialist programmes for parental conflict. As part of the Healthy Relationships Week, local leaders and practitioners will explore strategies to further integrate RPC components with existing services.
- Innovative approaches to supporting separating and separated parents and their children through this difficult time. Our recent survey and other sources of data show that, in some local areas, the number of separation enquiries has increased during and after the initial national lockdown. Some local authorities also reported that some separated and divorced parents experienced increased conflict due to contact and parenting arrangements. Although it is still difficult to predict the long-term impact of COVID-19 and lockdowns on families, these findings suggest that it is likely that there will be an increase in separation and divorce, and that families will need local support through such difficult times. As part of the Healthy Relationships Week, we will hear from intervention providers and separated parents about the additional parenting challenges that result from COVID-19 and the most effective ways to support families digitally.
- Practical recommendations on how to evaluate the impact of adapted virtual and digital interventions. A positive finding from our recent report was that 83% of the local authorities we surveyed intend to evaluate the impact of their adapted provision. During the Healthy Relationships Week, we will share key learnings from our work with local authorities to improve the understanding and use of evaluation in reducing parental conflict.
The Healthy Relationships Week is intended to provide local authorities and their partners with insights to help them navigate the challenges around parental conflict – and its effects on children – as best as possible. We hope it’s insightful and updates can be found on Twitter under the hashtag #healthyrelationshipsweek.
Virginia Ghiara is research officer at the Early Intervention Foundation