Parental Advocacy in Wales: A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of its Effectiveness in Supporting Parents
Wales currently has the highest proportion of children in care among UK nations, and it is a policy priority of the Welsh government to reduce the number of children in care. The potential for parental advocacy (PA) services to help achieve this aim is increasingly being recognised, and the Welsh Government is funding several PA services across Wales.
In the USA, the growing evidence base demonstrates that PA services can reduce the need for children to come into care and help children in care to return home safely. However, it is not yet clear how these services might be adapted for the Welsh context, nor how effective they might be for Welsh families.
The project team are carrying out an in-depth evaluation of PA programmes in three sites across Wales. This will enable us to explore how PA services are implemented in Wales, the mechanisms by which these services may or may not be effective and their potential outcomes. This will contribute to the evidence about PA services in the UK.
PA services – involving parents with lived-experience and professionals with specialist training – support parents involved with child protection services, to help create positive change and reduce the need for children to enter care. Policy interest in PA services is growing, and the Welsh Government is currently investing in PA services across Wales.
This study will evaluate:
(a) whether parents, advocates and stakeholders believe that PA services help reduce the need for children to enter care.
(b) the value of PA services in improving parents’ relationships with social care professionals.
(c) the role of advocates in supporting parents to be involved in decision-making processes where there are child welfare concerns.
We will evaluate three case study sites deploying either peer-based or professional-based PA services to examine how they work and how services are being implemented across Wales. The research design was developed with the involvement of parents with lived experience of social care services, who will continue to play a key role throughout the study.
This study will address the following research questions:
- What are the key ingredients of PA services in three areas of Wales, and what are their similarities and differences?
- How and in what circumstances do PA services support parents to be more involved in child protection decision-making?
- What are the key considerations for future evaluations of PA services in Wales, and would it be feasible to undertake an experimental or quasi-experimental study?
Activities and Methods
This study employs a mixed-methods, realist design which will draw on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection methods to understand the underlying causal mechanisms underpinning PA services. We will co-produce a programme theory with parents, parental advocates, and other stakeholders to reflect the PA services at each site. The study will involve a combination of interviews, focus groups, practice observations and case file analysis.
This research is ongoing, and findings are due to be available in 2024.