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Paper

The use of action based research to initiate the development of culture change in service delivery to families in crisis and those requiring early intervention

abstract

Background. Since the 1800's Blackpool has been a popular coastal resort for not only the people of the Northwest of England but for the United Kingdom as a whole. Its beaches, bright lights and amusements have and continue to be a Mecca for both holidaymakers and those individuals and families who perceive it as a possible source of income. The development of Blackpool's role as an entertainment centre has brought with it a set of unique social problems. These are not always obvious to the casual observer who often perceives Blackpool as an affluent town free from problems. However, a short walk from the sparkle of the promenade leads into areas of the town that have such a high social need that Blackpool described as one of the most deprived areas of the United Kingdom. This presents Blackpool's services with significant challenges, which are compounded by high levels of population movement and by the fact that a significant number of the families moving into Blackpool originate from socially and economically deprived backgrounds. These form a pool of hard to reach families that have complex needs, placing considerable demands on services.

Blackpool Council has responded to this challenge by adopting a proactive stance in developing a myriad of services that offer these families efficient and effective support ranging from preventative to complex multi-disciplinary interventions. To assist in the development and evaluation of this raft of interventions the Council established a partnership with Salford University to undertake the following three research projects:

 Springboard. This is a piece of Action Research that is evaluating the development of a 'virtual' multidisciplinary service for those families that services deem as hard to reach. This is a three year project and it is envisaged that by March '08 it will have worked with 60 families. During the development of the service the 'virtual' nature of the service was emphasised to ensure that another level of service delivery was not established. This was instigated by placing the practitioners within their own originating agency. The development phase of the project involved the construction of two documents, the first being a screening/assessment document and the second a baseline document that was developed to measure changes in the families' situation. A raft of data collection tools were employed within the study ranging from interviews with service users and staff from all levels of service provision, conference and focus group approaches including 'world café' and 'open space approaches', researcher observation and field notes. In relation to the service user experience both the qualitative and the quantitative data from the project is very encouraging.

Eleven families were interviewed and every family described the intervention from 'Springboard' into their lives as a positive experience and have identified significant steps forward in the quality of their lives. The families repeatedly described how the approach adopted by the staff was a refreshing change. They felt the staff related to them in a very positive light, treating the families with respect and dignity. They described the staff as having a 'can do' mentality, which supported the families to make changes rather than dwelling on past events.

The positive experience described by the families is validated by the data from the baseline documents demonstrating improvements in the type and quality of housing, improvements in families accessing health related services such as screening, smoking cessation and drug and alcohol services. Evidence from 31 of the families involved shows a reduction of 68% in criminal activity and a 67% reduction in nuisance behaviour. Recorded incidents of domestic violence (DV) reduced by 74% with the number of arrests associated with DV reduced by 50%. There has also been a 50% reduction in the number of families classed as living in 'non-decent accommodation. School attendance of the children involved in the project has also dramatically increased.

The journey for the service providers has been less dramatic, with issues of communication and change management coming to the fore at all levels. Steps have been taken to address these issues and data is being collected to ascertain the impact of these cultural changes.

 Budget Holding lead Professional. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the introduction of a preventative/ early intervention service for families living in areas of high social need. The research team have adopted the innovative approach of Appreciative Inquiry to undertake the evaluation. This project is in its early stages and it is currently too early to present any findings. However case studies have shown that it is having an impact on outcomes for the families involved.

 Parenting Experiences. This project has adopted a more traditional approach to evaluation and is using a pre and post intervention questionnaire to explore changes in parenting behaviour as a result of different interventions, delivery and referral methods. Again this project is in its early stages and data is not yet available.

All of these projects have been instigated to change the way services are delivered across the resort by providing a holistic 'Think Family' approach, using integrated working practices to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable children and families.

Recommendations. There is an need for integrated service delivery around families. Adult and Children's Services should consider how to identify and provide support to those families identified as 'at risk' of negative outcomes. Local Authorities to work with Central Government to embed the 'Think Families' approach.

 Key references

Brown, K. & White, K. (2006). Exploring the evidence base for Integrated Children's Services. Edinburgh, Scottish Executive Education Department.

Cabinet Office (2007). Reaching Out: Think Family. Analysis and themes from the Families at Risk Review. London, Social Exclusion Task force.

DfES (2006). Making it Happen: working together for children, young people and families. London, DfES.

Contacts: Merle Davies, Children & Young People's Department, Blackpool Council Community and Inclusion Division, Progress House, Clifton Road, Blackpool FY4US, UK, E-mail: Merle.davies@blackpool.gov.uk.

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