Child poverty pathfinders - early implementation process: evaluation

This report explores the early set-up and implementation of the Child Poverty Pathfinders. The research uses in-depth qualitative findings to understand what has been working well and what has been working less well during the development stage.

Executive Summary

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act of 2017 set new legal targets for child poverty in Scotland, including for less than 18% of children to be living in relative poverty by 2023/24 and for less than 10% to be living in relative poverty by 2030. As part of this overarching target, the Scottish Government created the 2018-2022 Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, and in March 2022 released the second stage of the delivery plan for 2022-2026. This second delivery plan includes a commitment to support the work of two Local Pathfinders – one operating in Glasgow and one in Dundee.

These Pathfinders, designed and implemented at a local level, aim to provide person-centred support to families most at risk of poverty. Critically, the Pathfinders seek to make it easier for families to access services as part of a proactive attempt to improve the system as a whole and move away from a disaggregated service provision. As such, they aim to tackle child poverty both by directly supporting families at risk, and also by driving system change in the way in which families are supported.

This early process evaluation was undertaken to explore the early set-up and implementation of the Child Poverty Pathfinder sites, to understand what had been working well, and what had been working less well, during the development stage. The evaluation team engaged with stakeholders and partners at national, strategic and local service delivery levels to examine the extent to which the Pathfinder activities had begun to create systems change. The team also engaged with families to explore their journey through the system, and how their experiences of receiving support may have differed from previous occasions where support had been sought. The overarching aim of the evaluation was to identify lessons which could be used in future to improve the existing Pathfinder sites and to inform decision making for other future sites.

Summary of key findings

The Pathfinders aim to reduce the barriers that people are facing to accessing services by creating new access routes and stimulating systems change. They aim to create 'joined-up' services, where families experiencing child poverty are no longer affected by disaggregated service provision. They seek to tackle child poverty by directly supporting families who are experiencing poverty while also driving forward systems change to improve the ways that families are supported. The key findings of an early process evaluation of the early implementation of the Pathfinders are presented below.

How is the Pathfinder developing from the perspectives of partners and stakeholders?

Both Pathfinders had experienced challenges in the early stages of development due to some partners and stakeholders being unclear on how the strategic aims of the Pathfinders would be met at a service delivery level. This appeared to have evolved and stakeholders and partners described the sense that things were now much clearer. Developing the relationships that were required to ensure success and work effectively across organisations took time. Many partners and stakeholders reflected that if Pathfinders are being considered in other areas, time for relationship building and 'bedding in' of the partnerships should be allocated at the beginning.

To what extent have the Pathfinders achieved their aim of establishing systems change?

Participants who took part in the partner, stakeholder and family interviews recounted examples of where systems change had begun to occur. Most partners and stakeholders suggested that while some change had happened, whole systems change at the scale required would take considerable time and should be viewed as a long-term project. Many participants told us that the Pathfinder had begun to initiate change, but that there was a long way to go. The data gathered during this evaluation suggests that Pathfinders may be successful in sparking systems change, but that lasting change would require long-term investment and commitment from multiple sectors including welfare, health and social services, financial advice sectors and the third sector. We learned that the intended approach of working in a holistic, person-centred way was time-consuming and that this could be challenging for some organisations who were required to work to Key Performance Indicators as part of their funding.

How are the Pathfinders engaging target audiences, including priority groups?

The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan indicates that the Pathfinders will aim to support families where children are experiencing poverty, including the six identified priority families in the plan:

  • lone parents/carers;
  • ethnic minority families;
  • families with a disabled adult or child;
  • families with a young mother (under 25);
  • families with a child under 1;
  • larger families (3+ children).

From the perspectives of partners and stakeholders, the person-centred approach taken within the Pathfinders is managing to target families who are experiencing poverty, including priority groups. Both Pathfinders were still in the process of negotiating data sharing agreements with organisations, such as the DWP and Social Security Scotland, at the time when this evaluation took place. A lack of agreement on data sharing had meant that available data relating to families most in need could not be used to identify or target priority groups who were known to be facing the highest levels of poverty. Despite these challenges, the open access approach used in Glasgow, and the door knocking, outreach approach being used in Dundee, appeared to be capturing families who were experiencing high levels of poverty due to the concentration of poverty within Glasgow and the area of Dundee where the Pathfinder had been established.

What impact have the Pathfinders had on the landscape of local service provision?

According to the partner and stakeholder data, Pathfinder activity appears to be complementing some of the structures, initiatives and services already in place in both Glasgow and Dundee. Several partners expressed that the Pathfinder carried weight, which was adding an enhanced network and increased legitimacy to activities. The sense of reputation and gravitas appeared to be extending to some services at a local delivery level who had been able to use their involvement in the Pathfinder to encourage others to do things differently, creating new ways to access services. Partners and stakeholders from both Pathfinders, however, reported that they had moved quickly into a delivery phase at the beginning of the Pathfinders.

In Dundee, in particular, this had meant that insufficient time had been taken to scope out services that already existed locally. Initially, there was some duplication of effort, and key stakeholders had not been invited to the table at the earliest point. Once this became apparent, local delivery organisations were invited to attend strategic planning meetings. This had produced a few barriers to partnership working initially, leading to a period that was described by many as 'tricky' to navigate. All partners and stakeholders involved in the evaluation, however, noted that this had now been resolved and concentrated relationship building efforts had led to difficulties having been worked through.

A similar but slightly different situation had occurred in the Glasgow Pathfinder, at a strategic level. In Glasgow, there were already strategic working groups to address child poverty underway at the start of the Pathfinder. Those involved, however, were consulted in the Pathfinder planning process to avoid duplication, and in some ways this was considered to have strengthened the work of the Pathfinder as there was existing expertise to draw upon. In Glasgow, some stakeholders commented that there still needed to be some work done to maximise the involvement of local third sector service providers in strategic discussions surrounding the development of the Pathfinder. This was underway and developing at the time the evaluation took place.

How has the support that families have accessed via the Pathfinders differed from their previous experiences of seeking support?

The families we spoke with during the evaluation gave overwhelmingly positive feedback about the person-centred, holistic approach. Many expressed that the 'no wrong door' model being used in both Pathfinders had helped to reduce barriers to accessing services, and had increased people's awareness of the support they may be eligible for. Many reported that they appreciated the local knowledge of staff, and their ability to link them in with the right services and the right people quickly.

The drop-in hub model, being used as part of the Dundee Pathfinder, appeared to be reducing barriers to accessing support. However, some family members expressed that they did not feel comfortable sharing personal information in a community-based public setting, where confidentiality could not be assured.

In the Glasgow Pathfinder, some families found it unusual to be offered support for a wider range of issues than they had initially requested help for and were initially suspicious of this. Partners and local delivery stakeholders felt that offers of additional support should come with some explanation, and care should be taken to ensure that staff are aligning their activities with a pace that feels right for each person. They felt some public awareness raising of the Pathfinders could help to offset some of these challenges.

To what extent has the concept of holistic, person-centred support influenced service design and delivery?

Almost all partners, stakeholders and families who were involved in the evaluation described examples that demonstrated that the person-centred approach was embedded within Pathfinder service delivery. This appeared to be going well. The 'no wrong door' approach was beginning to be used in both Pathfinders. In Glasgow, some of this work was being delivered by a telephone service, 'Glasgow Helps'. In Dundee, some of this work was being delivered by outreach keyworkers and some by staff working within a newly established hub. However, several partners and stakeholders in both Pathfinders described new ways of working to try to create a broader 'no wrong door' approach. For many, this involved asking parents/carers about their broader needs during initial conversations and using the developing relationships within the Pathfinder to create 'warm introductions' to other services. This meant that in both Pathfinders, informal and formal 'no wrong door' approaches were beginning to form which meant that whoever made initial contact with the person would act in a 'caseworker/keyworker' type role, walking alongside the person until the right services or support had been identified and provided. This appeared to be reducing barriers to accessing support. While all partners and stakeholders we spoke with described their commitment to working in this way, some stated that the holistic approach was time consuming and labour intensive. This was easier to manage for some organisations compared to others, depending on funding structures and the organisations primary role.

What are the perspectives of stakeholders and partners concerning the replicability, scalability and sustainability of the Pathfinders?

Most participants expressed the view that the Pathfinders were developing well, but that when it comes to child poverty, the Pathfinders had only begun to scratch the surface of a large scale problem. Partners and stakeholders described concerns that insufficient monitoring data was being collected at a service delivery level, which made it difficult to analyse where gains had been made. Others expressed concern that if performance metrics were being more routinely collected, they may not accurately reflect the gradual process of change that is involved in addressing poverty. Many partners expressed that whole systems change would take at least 5 to 7 years of sustained commitment to embed, before longer term impacts on reducing child poverty would be seen. Several partners and stakeholders did not think that the level of activity required to support the Pathfinder would not be sustainable without a commitment to long-term funding.


Based on these key findings the report provides some key recommendations intended to inform the continued development of Pathfinders both in Glasgow in Dundee as well as in any other areas where the approach may be scaled up:

Recommendation 1: The Pathfinder aims and objectives should be co-designed early on and with the right partners and stakeholders locally.

Recommendation 2: Data sharing challenges should be worked through from the outset to allow data to be shared and used to identify and reach target families consistently.

Recommendation 3: Clear project planning and project management structures should be in place to ensure that there is effective communication, clarity and shared understanding of partnership goals and clear strategic direction.

Recommendation 4: Monitoring and evaluation processes should be built into Pathfinder models to support the early identification of delivery issues, improve opportunities for ongoing learning and allow an assessment of impact.

Recommendation 5: Strategic and operational commitments to allowing different ways of working and creating spaces for people to build relationships and work collaboratively should be ensured to enable the operational culture for system change.

Recommendation 6: Local knowledge should be embedded and shared in the Pathfinder delivery and development process so that support can be tailored effectively to local need.

Recommendation 7: Ensuring that a 'No wrong door' model with multiple access points and delivery channels is key to providing support that families feel is easier to navigate and non-judgemental and should continue to be built on as a central part of the Pathfinder model.

Recommendation 8: Pathfinders should continue to be built around and commit to providing person-centred support providing the right level and type of support that each family needs at the right time.

Recommendation 9: Pathfinders should ensure they are delivering support using appropriate delivery models and locations, that are accessible and have privacy.

Recommendation 10: The support offered by the Pathfinders should be more effectively communicated in the areas it is available through a variety of routes.



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