You First was developed by Barnardo's and funded by the Scottish Government. It targets vulnerable parents aged 21 and under, with a child under the age of one, who live in the 15% most deprived areas in Scotland. It aims to provide a boost for young, first time parents by increasing the support that they receive from their peers, the community and existing local services. The evaluation explored the benefits of the You First programme and the ways in which these could be maximised through effective delivery.
You First showed positive signs of helping the parents who attended. Sixty-eight per cent of those who started You First, completed it1. They all appeared to have benefited in some way, at least saying that they had learnt something to some degree, and were pleased that they had attended.
You First parents benefited to differing extents. The three most widespread benefits were: the development of a social network; increased confidence; and greater interaction between parents and their babies. In addition to these, You First also delivered benefits that had a big impact on just a few of the parents (e.g. raising educational aspirations) and smaller benefits that many parents found useful and informative (e.g. home safety).
You First was successful in attracting parents previously defined as 'hard to reach'. This stemmed from three main features of the referral process:
- Parents were given the choice to attend You First; they were not told they had to attend. This meant that they did not feel they were being approached because they were doing something wrong or were a 'bad' parent.
- You First was open to those aged 21 and under, meaning that parents were not intimidated by the prospect of attending a group with older parents. Some reported that they would simply not have attended if they thought that older parents would be there.
- The group was run as a cohort. This helped parents feel less nervous about attending the first session because they knew that everyone would be starting at the same time. Some parents said that they would not have attended an existing group where everybody else already knew each other.
You First created a supportive and caring atmosphere that was greatly appreciated by parents:
- The parents received a high level of encouragement and reassurance from the You First facilitators. The facilitators spent a great deal of time building a rapport with the parents. They took the time to get to know them as individuals and showed a sustained interest in their lives. This meant that parents felt welcomed and that the facilitators cared about their welfare.
- You First focused on what parents were interested in and not just what they 'should' be doing. This non-judgemental atmosphere helped to increase parents' self-confidence and their belief in their abilities as a parent.
- Parents also received peer support at the group. Simply knowing that there were others in their situation, and spending time with those who understood what they were going through, helped parents to feel that they were doing 'fine'; they could discuss their experiences and share any problems that they had.
Overall, the delivery of You First worked well, but was more successful in some areas of learning than others. The methods of learning that seemed most effective were: those involving practical skills and active engagement in a subject; those that did not involve too much paper work; and the explanation of the benefits of doing something rather than simply telling parents that they should do it.
You First was designed to help parents develop in the future and aid their transition into positive future pathways such as work, education or other groups in the community that could provide them with support. The facilitators tried to encourage parents to plan for the future in three main areas:
- In relation to returning to work, the facilitators linked parents to services, such as Working For Families, who could support and advise them. While many of the parents who returned to work had planned to do so before attending, these services were valuable in helping to arrange childcare and providing short-term financial support to aid the transition.
- The facilitators encouraged parents to see education in a more positive light and to give more thought to completing further qualifications. While a small number of parents did take this on board, this was an area for improvement as the qualification offered at You First did not work well. More consideration should be given to introducing a new qualification to You First which would better meet the needs of parents and perhaps help to increase parents' aspirations in this area.
- Simply attending You First was beneficial to some parents in increasing their confidence to go on and attend other groups. Professionals from other groups and services also came to talk to the parents about what they could offer. A small number of parents had gone on to attend other groups in their local area. However, uptake of such services was not high.
Email: Ruth Whatling