Supporting children and families on the edge of care – turning the tide with Triple P

A society ultimately succeeds based on how well it protects and prepares the next generation. All children deserve to grow up in an environment that prioritises their safety and wellbeing; either within their own biological family, or where, this isn’t possible, within the care system.

However, pressure on the child protection and care system continues to grow, according to the Independent Social Care Review’s The Case for Change (2021)1. Compared to ten years ago, there are 24% more looked-after children (more than 80,000); 32% more child protection plans, and a shocking 129% increase Section 47 Enquiries. Many of these are older children and teenagers. But total spending on children’s services is barely more than it was in 2012/13, although the mix of statutory versus non-statutory spending has changed.

As the report says: “In the majority of cases, families become involved with children’s social care because they are parenting in conditions of adversity, rather than because they have caused or are likely to cause significant harm to their children. We have a shared obligation to help families raise their children. Communities can also play a key role in supporting families, in some cases removing the need for statutory intervention.”

In other words, providing more effective, evidence-based support, more joined-up support, and more preventative support at the local level can have enormous benefits for individual children and the system overall.

When North Somerset Council recognised the need to do more to support families to stay together, where it was safe and possible, they commissioned Polaris Children’s Services to lead a Social Impact Bond (SIB) funded service, named “Turning the Tide.” The service now delivers the strength-based, intensive multi-modal intervention “Stronger, Safer Families” model across a 12- or 18-week period to families. It focuses on improving family function and resilience to support both reunification and diversion cases, and central to the model is Triple P.

Triple P is the evidence-based intervention that allows practitioners to have confidence in their work. Designed to empower parents, the programme:

  • Gives parents a range of strategies to support the development of positive, caring relationships with their children and improve a young person’s challenging behaviour.
  • Supports management of behavioural, emotional, and developmental problems in children by enhancing the knowledge, skills, and confidence of parents and carers.
  • Is delivered through group face-to-face sessions and a series of follow-up individual sessions, tailored to the family’s needs.

We spoke to Nick McPartlan, Head of Services for Polaris, and Monique Williamson, Project Leader of Turning the Tide in North Somerset, to discuss the impact which Triple P has had on both diverting children from social care, and reunification cases.

Nick noted that across the country, Triple P is the starting point for many of the services Polaris deliver. The organisation’s active Triple P programmes include those in North Somerset and Lewisham, and now across the Midlands (which came about following the success of the North Somerset project). Reflecting on the impact of Triple P on families considered on the edge of care, Nick says the diversion work had delivered “way beyond their expectations” in terms of success rate, and was also instrumental in providing huge savings for the local councils.

Turning the Tide has more than achieved its goals since its implementation, achieving an impact which has been rewarded with two-year extension.

Monique says that Triple P also benefits the staff administering it. In particular, she says the programme’s solution-focused approach, (which allows for flexible tailoring to each individual parent); goals-orientated nature (promoting parents’ independence and confidence); and long-term impact, (ability to keep children safe and out of the care system) are its key strengths.

Monique described a recent reunification case in the area which involved a 13-year-old girl who had been in care for more than five years while her mother was in prison. Upon release, the mother enrolled in a 18-week intensive course to help build up her confidence, and ultimately lay the foundation of a healthy future relationship with her daughter. Though this was not an easy transition, the mother reflected that the programme was allowing her to rebuild the relationship with her daughter, while bolstering her own self-esteem.

Another mother who had benefited from the service said that before doing the Triple P programme, she believed her relationship with her son was “beyond repairable.” However, the support of the practitioner made a huge difference. “She believed in us, all along telling me that she believed I was a good mum, and that belief eventually rubbed onto me,” the mother reflected.

Through Triple P, the practitioner was able to explain that many of the behaviours which the child was showing were normal for their age, and work with the mother to ensure “a kinder approach of understanding to help him grow emotionally.” As well as mending the relationship between the parent and their child, the mother said that “through the Triple P sessions I discovered a lot of things about myself,” and the Triple P course provided a forum in which she could “open up [her] feelings without fear of being judged by others.”

Thanks to Turning the Tide and Triple P, the mother said that “now our lives have changed for the better - the bitterness that was between us is gone,” adding that there had also been a positive impact on her relationship with her other two children. Above all, she said, the service “bridged and repaired my relationship with my son”. She said she now felt “equipped with the coaching approach to deal with any behaviour problems, should they arise.”

Long term and sustainable impacts

A four-year evaluation for “Turning the Tide” has revealed long-term and sustained results for families. The analysis suggests that young people whose families engaged with the programme experienced “comparatively better social care status outcomes than those who did not.” Moreover, at 18 months post-intensive support, 94% of young people in the diversion cohort remained out of care. Alongside this, a significant proportion of families involved “experienced positive changes in lots of areas of their life, such as relationships, managing emotions and behaviours, friendships and peers, and wellbeing,” thanks to the programme.

More broadly, the analysis suggests “Turning the Tide” led to 12,882 days of care being avoided for the 135 young people involved. The analysis estimates this has led to savings of between £1,260,626 (foster care) and £9,015,778 (residential care), something which shows the marked cost-benefit of the Social Impact Bond approach, and ways in which programmes which are underpinned by evidence-based interventions can yield significant social and economic benefits.

Return on Investment

Indeed, it’s not only the real-life stories that illustrate the worth of these programmes. Many sites across the UK & Ireland offer Triple P to families engaged with children’s social care. Projects like “Turning the Tide”, predicated on a Social Impact Bond approach, focus on clearly demonstrating the financial benefits of the programme alongside the social impact. The British Medical Association have reported estimated economic benefits of £5.05 for every pound invested in the Triple P system, made up of both savings and revenue due to:

  • Reduced spending associated with: child abuse and neglect; out-of-home placement; crime; parental depression (treatment costs and lost earnings); special education services;
  • Increased earnings via: reduced parental depression; better academic achievement; higher rates of graduation.

Learn more about why Triple P is different

1. case-for-change.pdf (