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.

Chapter 1: Background and overview

1.1 Background to the Child Poverty Pathfinders

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, they also bring together all the support services that vulnerable families require into one place, in 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.

As set out above, Scottish Government has enacted an ambitious child poverty strategy, and current projections anticipate that the interim target of 18% of children living in relative poverty by 2023-2024 will be met. However, in the context of continued impacts of Covid-19 on the health, wellbeing and financial security of people and the cost of living crisis, effective approaches to reducing Child Poverty remain of high priority. In 2022, the Scottish Government published its second Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, Best Start, Bright Futures (2022-2026), recognising the need to work differently and focus on outcomes to achieve the transformational change needed to meet the 2030 targets for child poverty reduction.

The plan acknowledges feedback from families that more needs to be done to support parents/carers and families to understand and navigate the often complex and fragmented child poverty support system, and to access the services and support they need to thrive. Specifically, the plan recognises the need to provide integrated and holistic support to parents/carers to drive forward a reduction in child poverty. The plan focuses on three elements intended to directly impact on the drivers of poverty reduction, as outlined below:

  • Providing the opportunities and integrated support that parents/carers need to enter, sustain and progress in work by increasing investment in employability support and focusing on key enablers and infrastructure (for example childcare and transport).
  • Maximising the support available for families to live dignified lives and meet their basic needs by delivering public services in a holistic way and supporting parents/carers and families to maximise their income and get access to the benefits, support and services they need.
  • Supporting the next generation to thrive, focusing on supporting children and young people to get the best start in life, to learn and grow, and progress from school.

To achieve these aims, the plan recognises that transformational change and new ways of working are needed. A key way forward has been to set up Local Pathfinders to deliver "a new approach to whole system, person-centred support," aimed at meeting the specific needs of families in need and most at risk of poverty.

The aims of the Pathfinder approach aligns with the Scottish Government's overarching Covid Recovery Strategy which focuses on addressing the systemic inequalities heightened by Covid-19, making progress towards becoming a wellbeing economy, and accelerating inclusive person-centred public services. In addition, the Pathfinders are taking place alongside other interventions aimed at catalysing system-wide and local changes including the No One Left Behind approach to employability and the implementation of the Whole Family Wellbeing Fund.

In this wider child poverty reduction policy context, the Local Pathfinders are specifically aimed at contributing to "a new approach to whole system change" focusing on innovation and testing, refining, adapting, and implementing new approaches to delivering person-centred solutions that may be scaled, or replicated in different localities. Critically important then, is the need to gather evidence and learning from the Pathfinders on understanding whether and how they are effective in achieving system change and delivering holistic support which meets the specific needs of people locally, to inform national policy and approaches for transforming the wider child poverty system.

1.2 The Glasgow Pathfinder model

The basis of the Glasgow Pathfinder is to test system change through a 'no wrong door' model for tackling child poverty – meaning that regardless of where, how, and why a person or family engages in the system, that interaction then becomes the gateway to receiving holistic, consistent, and comprehensive support. The role of the Pathfinder itself is to explore how best a 'no wrong door' model can be achieved by identifying and onboarding the right partners, designing and refining based on lessons learned and addressing the identified barriers that get in the way of a no wrong door model.

The Glasgow Pathfinder is a collaboration between Glasgow City Council, Scottish Government, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), and the Improvement Service. The key delivery mode is over the phone but the support can also be accessed in person. Parents/carers are referred to the Pathfinder from sources such as keyworkers in other services, educational staff or health professionals. After an initial discussion, families will have basic information recorded and, if necessary, may receive an immediate intervention, such as a fuel voucher. This is followed-up with a more detailed holistic needs assessment call, with a trained support officer, who acts as the Pathfinder keyworker. The support officer assesses the intensity and frequency of support required depending on their needs and sets up conversations for further referrals. Subsequently, parents/carers will have follow-up touch points through regular phone calls (or in person depending on their preference) to monitor the situation and reassess their needs.

In order to access this service, all that is required is a Glasgow postcode. As such, this model is able to assist a large number of people across the city, for an array of support needs. However, the target audiences are parents who are in or close to experiencing poverty, and in particular priority families are targeted via outreach and marketing. Between 9th May and 1st August 2022, a total of 5,564 contacts were made, and from May to December 2022, 713 citizens were supported through ongoing case management support.

1.3 The Dundee Pathfinder model

The Dundee Pathfinder model was developed in partnership between Dundee City Council, Scottish Government, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Social Security Scotland, drawing in other partners such as Discover Works, the Brooksbank Centre, and other third sector and grassroots organisations to support effective delivery. A key feature of this Pathfinder is to connect with other services and organisations in Dundee – including local employers – to improve linkages, allowing them to work in a more connected, streamlined and efficient way to provide solutions to families.

The Dundee Pathfinder adopts a keyworker model in the Linlathen area of the city and initially aimed to address child poverty through improving families' income from sustainable employment and/or income from benefits and helping to reduce their cost of living. Early work indicated that the target families face complex barriers, such as childcare, health issues, transport, and a lack of understanding of available support services and benefits. As a result, the Pathfinder provided more support in relation to cost of living (food and fuel) to families in all areas of need, to bring them closer not only to employment but to all services and benefits that enhance their wellbeing and maximise their incomes.

Keyworkers engage families, and Linlathen was targeted, based on a high level of deprivation. Individuals were initially identified as eligible, using council held data, to identify parents who qualified for Housing Benefit and Council Tax reduction and claimed no income from employment. Because many of these people have multiple barriers, they often have not previously accessed any services, or even know they exist, meaning it often requires multiple visits and contacts to encourage people to join the Pathfinder.

Individuals can visit the Brooksbank community centre which serves as an integrated services drop-in hub, with representatives from various organisations and support services who can provide bespoke support and advice to people who attend. The keyworkers carry out follow-up touch points, after the initial visit, to monitor and if necessary reassess support needs. In March 2023, the drop in-hub had been accessed 362 times, although this is not 'unique individuals' and includes adult children in engaged households, so the numbers of parents/carers supported will be less than this.

Although the Dundee Pathfinder originally targeted the Linlathen area, it has been found that as word spread, people from other parts of the city were attending the drop-in hub. While staff do not turn people away, they are aware that the service is being used by those from outside the area.

1.4 Commonalities between models

In both models, there are not fixed lengths of time for which families are enrolled in the Pathfinder, and there are not standard criteria to determine when a case has reached closure. This is in part due to the variety of support needs that the Pathfinders are intended to meet, meaning the duration and end point will vary between people. Most people enrolled in either Pathfinder will follow a unique journey, with the duration and closure point being a reflection of their journey.

1.5 Early evaluation of the process of implementing change

An early implementation process evaluation was undertaken to explore the early development phase of the Pathfinders. The aim of the process evaluation was to capture early learning and understand how systems change was being achieved. The research on which this report is based was not a full process evaluation of a defined delivery model, but rather, was an early process evaluation that was undertaken to inform ongoing learning and improvements to fulfil the aims of the evaluation. These aims are outlined below:

  • Engage with Pathfinder partners, at a national and local authority level, as well as local delivery partners to understand what changes are intended; assess the current position with regard to design of the Pathfinders, delivery, collaboration and joint working; and explore what is working well for them at this early stage and what could be improved with regards to how Pathfinders are being designed and implemented at a local level.
  • Engage with Pathfinder partners, at a national and local authority level, as well as local delivery partners, to understand how issues of scalability and sustainability are being understood and implemented; explore how learning is being gathered and shared across Pathfinders to support future scale-up and expansion and what is working well and what could be improved in sharing and supporting ongoing learning and scale-up.
  • Engage with families experiencing, or eligible for, Pathfinder support to understand how the Pathfinders are engaging participants at this stage, why they are opting to take up support or not, how they are experiencing the Pathfinders and what is working well for them and what could be improved, including whether there are any groups facing additional challenges or barriers accessing support and the reasons for this.
  • Engage across stakeholders, including service providers, service users and other families in poverty, to understand how stakeholders and families understand and experience holistic, person-centered support, and how this is influencing service design and delivery.
  • Deliver a report detailing key findings, lessons learned and insights from this engagement to inform ongoing design and delivery, outlining what appears to be working well, what needs to be improved and what is needed for this improvement to take place.

The remainder of this report is set out as follows:

  • Chapter 2: includes details of the methodology used in this evaluation, methods to recruit parents/carers, as well as a section on the limitations of the research. Further information on the demographic profile of the parents/carers who took part in the interviews is also provided in appendix 4.
  • Chapter 3: covers the partner and stakeholder perspectives concerning the context and background of the Pathfinders, and explores perspectives related to the core aims of the Pathfinders.
  • Chapter 4: explores insights into how the Pathfinders have been designed and developed so far. This includes an exploration of the concept of 'person-centred approaches' and how this has been used to shape service design and delivery; a discussion on the extent to which the Pathfinders have been informed by existing evidence and how the Pathfinders have been reaching priority groups. The chapter also discusses the mechanisms in place to gather and share learning, the effectiveness of partnership working and the extent to which trusting relationships have been established.
  • Chapter 5: explores the current delivery of the Pathfinders. This includes a discussion of whether their delivery is leading to systems change and the barriers and facilitators partners and stakeholders describe in relation to creating and maintaining a 'joined-up' system. This chapter also explores the current delivery mechanisms that are in place, the strengths and weaknesses of delivery at a local level in terms of what is considered to be working well, and what could be improved as well as the perspectives on the sustainability, replicability and future scalability of the Pathfinders.
  • Chapter 6: covers the impact that the Pathfinders have been having on families to date. This includes an exploration of parents/carers experiences of seeking support and how the support received via the Pathfinders has differed from previous experiences of seeking support. The chapter also explores what it is that has made a difference, and the types of support received. The effects experienced and key learning from the perspectives of parents/carers is also discussed in this chapter.
  • Chapter 7: Provides a conclusion, which summarises key messages and brings together the findings of the report and learning to inform future Pathfinder development. This chapter also makes a series of recommendations.
  • The appendices to this report contain the evaluation framework, research questions and the research tools used in the process evaluation.



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