London Metropolitan University Research Institutes


Parent Support in Sure Start Golborne & North West Kensington: an Evaluation of the Family Links Nurturing Programme

Funded by:

Sure Start


February 2006 - July 2006


The Institute for Policy Studies in Education (IPSE) was commissioned to undertake a research study to evaluate the effectiveness of a parenting support programme in North West Kensington and Golborne. The Family Links Nurturing Programme has been extended to families in this area by the Family Support Group and the local Sure Start Programme.

Aims of the Research:

The study aimed to identify and explore the outcomes of the programme for parents, provide them with an opportunity to offer criticism/praise and suggestions for improvement. Secondly, the study was designed as a ‘process’ evaluation; that is to consider the implementation and delivery of the programme and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach with a view to reaching conclusions/making recommendations that will aid the strategic and practical development of parenting support in a localised context.

Design and Scope:

To meet these aims the study involved qualitative semi-structured telephone and face-to-face interviews 30 local parents (who have children under the age of five) who held varying degrees of experience of the programme. The interviews were primarily conducted over the telephone. The parents were divided into three sub-samples: those on a waiting list; those who ceased attending early on in the programme; and those who attended the course in its entirety. The study was also concerned to elicit views on the long-term effectiveness of the course and so parents that completed the programme between six months and one year prior to the interview were also included.

In-depth interviews were also conducted with staff including the Programme Manager of Sure Start and five trained/experienced facilitators from Sure Start and Family Support Group. In addition to the primary data collected throughout the study additional materials and relevant literature were reviewed to locate and inform the focus of the study.


30 parents, 6 staff.


Telephone and face-to-face interviews, documentary analysis and literature review.

Findings and Conclusions:

Family Support Group and Sure Start gave careful consideration to selecting the Nurturing Programme to extend to local parents in North West Kensington and Chelsea. Reflection upon the aims and theoretical underpinning revealed alignment to the ethos and values of both services. This careful selection of the Nurturing Programme accounts in part to the overwhelmingly positive appraisals given by parents.

The quality and appropriateness of the training provided to staff to become group facilitators was praised. The follow-up offered by Family Links was felt to be very important to support the facilitators in what is a very challenging role.

The study revealed that related agencies that work closely with Sure Start and Family Support Group; such as Social Services, Health and voluntary organisations would benefit from greater levels of awareness and a fuller appreciation of what the programme aims to achieve and the methods used. This would have beneficial implications for the types and rates of referral made.

From the parent data it became clear that there was a degree of confusion amongst parents at the outset about what the Nurturing Programme aimed to achieve and what its main focus was. Few parents appreciated that the aim to enhance/develop emotional literacy was fundamental to the programme until they had participated. This points to the need for clearer information and explanation.

The integration of the Nurturing Programme with other activities that Sure Start and Family Support Group extend to local families, including for example home visiting, drop-in facilities and so on was an important factor. Parents (mostly mothers) were supported and encouraged to attend the programme and were familiar with the staff, venues and ethos of the services and so more willing to readily engage in the programme.

Throughout the report attention is paid to the innovative approach taken in North West Kensington and Golborne to reaching, engaging and retaining a diverse range of families. In particular the raft of issues that exist in attracting fathers to the Nurturing Programme is explored and the findings reveal that there is a groundswell of interest amongst local fathers but careful consideration (and consultation) with this group could help to expose ways of better engaging them. Similarly, the needs of parents with English as an additional language and/or a distinct cultural identity are fully explored in the report. The findings from this research reveal that the Nurturing Programme and its facilitators are effectively meeting the needs of BME groups. However, the findings indicate that ‘hard to reach groups’ require particular strategies (some of which were being piloted at the time of the research, such as Arabic-speaking or fathers-only groups) and that these strategies are inherently complex and require constant reflection and revision.

This study has also explored reasons behind rates of attrition and the effects of sporadic or non-attendance on other group members. Considerable attention has been paid to parental reflections on the importance of feeling confident in and comfortable with the facilitators co-ordinating the sessions. All of these findings build upon and add further illumination to the existing evidence base that exists in relation to the Nurturing Programme’s effectiveness. In accordance with previous studies this research also focused on the outcomes of the programme for parents in North West Kensington and Golborne and our findings confirm those of other studies. The principal benefits to parents and their families of participation in the programme include:

  • Feeling supported by peers (including a mirroring of problems);
  • Challenging stereotypical views about the parenting approaches adopted in other cultures/social classes/family formations;
  • Through calm thinking and new tools in parenting participants felt in greater control in their parental role;
  • Improved communication within families;
  • Longevity of lessons learnt (which was strengthened by the ability to refer to The Parenting Puzzle handbook at later points).

Additional findings that have implications for the effectiveness of the programme included:

  • The need for ‘whole-family’ commitment/engagement;
  • To combat a sense of isolation associated with being a parent full (or near full) commitment to the Programme is vital;
  • Some parents need precursory support before embarking upon the programme (especially those with language difficulties and/or confidence issues);
  • Appropriate referral mechanisms to channel parents with challenging teenagers to tailored parenting programmes.


This research study was designed so that a series of recommendations could be reached which would act to inform future service delivery and development of the programme in this particular local context. Within Chapter Five a series of practical suggestions from the parent perspective is provided and includes such measures as a recorded version of the handbook that might be available in a range of languages thereby easing accessibility; a guarantee for mixed- or male-only groups; and other issues such as the timing of the sessions to coincide with children’s sleeping patterns and so on are discussed.

As the study was also aimed to aid strategic direction a number of recommendations have also been drawn from the study with the intention of assisting Sure Start and Family Support Group in developing the programme further. These include:

  • Formative Monitoring and Evaluation
    This needs to be developed both internally and externally. The programme collects a considerable body of attitudinal and evaluative data and opportunities to interrogate these data should be capitalised upon. Facilitators regularly feedback to Family Links as part of quality assurance measures - utilisation of this source of information should also be built into service delivery, reflection and planning;
  • Joined up service delivery and in particular the importance of partner agencies
    The study has emphasised the vitally important role of partner agencies and organisations that work with local families. Related professionals need to be fully aware of the existence, role/scope of the Nurturing Programme and feel confident to make effective and appropriate family referrals. An exercise in educating related professionals in this respect will be an important exercise to undertake.
  • Raising parental awareness and managing expectations
    This recommendation is related to that outlined above. A degree of work needs to be undertaken in communicating the aims, focus and intended outcomes of the Nurturing Programme to parents as well as other professionals working with families. Careful preparation of parental expectations at the outset could ensure that a lower rate of attrition is achieved.
  • ‘Whole family’ commitment
    We would recommend that where possible all family members are engaged in the programme, although we recognise this will not always be feasible. As a minimum the value of the programme should be translated to non-participating parents (typically fathers). Whilst fathers are notoriously hard-to-reach, the importance of translating the value of the programme to family relationships would be a worthwhile exercise.
  • Identifying and addressing the needs of ‘special populations’
    This study has demonstrated that parents sit along a continuum of need (from Social Services referrals, to confident/competent parents in need of little more than affirmation). As such the programme can represent an end in itself or a means to an end when provided in conjunction with a range of other support. The Nurturing Programme in this local context represents a universal service to the widest of populations whilst room for a degree of targeting is also maintained. Work is underway to attract and retain members of ‘special populations’ ie fathers, parents from BME groups and/or with EAL. We would recommend that further consultation is undertake to ascertain what members of these ‘special populations’ self-define their needs to be and how they can be best catered for. The findings would suggest that for parents (mothers) with limited English that a staged approach is taken to introducing them to the full Nurturing Programme.
  • Maintaining diversity through universalism
    The universalism that underpins the philosophies of both Sure Start and Family Support Group has resulted in a de-stigmatising service to local parents. The Nurturing Programme embodies further this commitment to a non-judgemental approach to family support. We would recommend that whilst attention is paid to targeted support for ‘special populations’ the more comprehensive and universalistic approach be maintained.

In summary, the Nurturing Programme in the context of North West Kensington and Golborne is very well received and there is clear evidence of effectiveness. Sure Start and Family Support Group have approach the delivery of the programme in a reflexive and creative way and as such ventured in to uncharted territory. Therefore, it is hoped that this study and the recommendations outlined here can help in the development and strategic direction of the programme in this specific local context.

Project team:

Jayne Osgood
Kathy James


Jayne Osgood


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