Tackling child poverty - place-based, system change initiatives: learnings

This report provides early evidence and learning from a range of initiatives that aim to tackle child poverty through working in partnership to provide holistic, person-centred support for parents and families.

Executive Summary


There are a wide range of factors that influence levels of child poverty. The landscape of support services is complex and interconnected and we know that a combination of policies and support, working seamlessly together, is likely to help tackle child poverty.

Support for families living in poverty needs to be better integrated across a range of services, such as housing, education, employability and health. Support also needs to be part of a coherent package in order to ensure that it is working for families.

The 2nd Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, Best Start, Bright Futures, recognised this complexity in child poverty support systems, and the need to work differently to meet the 2030 child poverty targets. It committed to:

  • Ensuring the design and delivery of services is based on the distinctive needs of individual communities through a place-based approach
  • A holistic and person-centred approach to the provision of support that wraps around the needs of the individual
  • Partnership working from across the public, third and/or private sectors and between local and national partners, with join-up in the range of support provided to help move people out of poverty
  • A move away from crisis responses towards more preventative action

The Delivery Plan committed to a number of actions and initiatives focused on delivering this ‘system change’ and testing different approaches to providing person-centred solutions for families in poverty.

This report provides a first step in assessing the evidence we have so far on place-based, system change initiatives aimed at tackling child poverty.

System change initiatives are those which focus on making ‘structural and procedural changes to the organisations which support families, which in turn are intended to improve the services provided to families. This can include (but is not limited to) changes in:

  • The types of services available
  • The ways in which families are contacted and brought into the system
  • The extent to which the right families are reached
  • Methods of identifying and targeting families that need support
  • The complexity and length of families’ journey through the system.’[1]

There are eight initiatives in scope for this report. These are:

  • Dundee Child Poverty Pathfinder
  • Glasgow Child Poverty Pathfinder
  • Child Poverty Practice Accelerator Fund
  • Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy
  • No One Left Behind
  • School Age Childcare
  • Social Innovation Partnership & Clackmannanshire Family Wellbeing Partnership
  • Whole Family Wellbeing Funding

This report provides a first, baseline, report of our approach to assessing progress towards system change in the context of child poverty.

Implementing place-based, system change initiatives

The findings to date show that for those initiatives at the implementation phase, there are encouraging and positive signs that they are laying the groundwork for longer term system change. This includes greater partnership working with a shared sense of purpose; regular and clear communication and strengthened relationships; and recognising and building on the knowledge and experiences of local communities.


The key enablers to successfully implementing place-based, system change initiatives related to effective partnership working and effective place-based working.

Effective partnership working was seen to be crucial in driving forward system change. From increased partnership working arose a greater awareness among partners of the range of key stakeholders and other service/delivery partners locally, which minimised duplication of effort. Further, a shared and common sense of purpose, and building clear lines of communication, were seen to be crucial in aligning interests across partners in order to enable longer term and sustainable change. Taking time to develop these strong partnerships and relations from the outset was seen to be essential in enabling longer term, sustainable delivery of system change initiatives.

Effective place-based working, drawing upon local knowledge and experience in order to deliver the right services and support for local areas, was also viewed as critical, because this allowed partners to recognise the strength and uniqueness of local areas – and then to use this to provide support that meets the needs of local families in their local context.


The key challenges that were identified to successfully implementing initiatives focused on the long-term nature of implementing system change. This meant it took time to see progress and embed structural change and this did not always align with funding timeframes. Another challenge concerned workforce investment, particularly relating to the recruitment and retention of staff, often due to the fixed-term nature of appointments as a result of the temporary nature of funding. A further challenge was the difficult socio-economic context in which initiatives were delivering their services (e.g. the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing cost of living crisis). This context is likely to be increasing the levels of need felt by people using these services.

Emerging impacts of place-based, system change initiatives

Most initiatives studied are at the early stages of design and implementation and, as noted, systems change is by its nature a long-term endeavour, so impacts would be expected to be limited at this stage. Nonetheless, it was evident from the early findings that there were emerging impacts for a range of stakeholders across the system, including service users, service providers, partners and policy stakeholders.

Individuals and families using services

For individuals and families accessing services, early findings suggest that the changes made were viewed positively, with people expressing satisfaction with the support they received. This was related to the holistic and personalised nature of the support, in particular the ‘no wrong door’ approach. This is based on the principle that regardless of where, how and why an individual or family engages in the system, that interaction then becomes a gateway to receiving holistic, consistent and comprehensive support.

Factors that appeared to be limiting the impact for families using the services included the time taken for system changes to take effect, alongside the stigma felt by some individuals when accessing support, due to previous negative experiences.

Engagement with beneficiaries

In terms of engaging with individuals or families who might need support, the learning so far suggests the value of a key worker, or one single point of contact for individuals accessing services. This key worker can be crucial in not only initial engagement with individuals and families, but also in sustaining engagement.

Service providers need to be flexible and adaptable in order to ensure appropriate levels of engagement with different groups, for example, using a combination of methods to tailor their approaches to different groups. Ensuring maximum reach of the initiatives and accessibility for ‘hard to reach’ and minority groups were common issues. Particular issues included: challenges in accessing data that could help to identify families for proactive targeted engagement; the effective promotion and advertisement of services, including through outreach; and reducing the stigma that some families felt in accessing statutory services.

Service providers

Early evidence suggests that service providers found multiple benefits in the closer, and more aligned, partnership working that developed as a result of these initiatives. In particular, providers welcomed closer partnership working, with the sharing of resources and the creation of new access routes for families seen to be important in supporting new ways of working. There was also a sense of increased job satisfaction, from seeing positive effects on the lives of families seeking support from their services, and this was seen to be a fundamental cornerstone to ensuring the longevity of the changes in ways of working.

However, building these close relationships did not come without struggle. For example, in some instances, not involving key local partners and stakeholders in the early stages of design and development of initiatives, led to duplication of effort. Therefore, it was seen to be important to take time to resolve issues, and ensure strong relationships between partners, before moving into the delivery phase of an initiative.

Policy stakeholders

For policy stakeholders, early findings suggest lessons that need to be considered in order for benefits to be fully realised. These include consideration of: the dissemination of good practice and learning across system change initiatives; ensuring alignment between national level strategic aims and the delivery of local services; and ways to ensure the sustainability of initiatives beyond time limited funding periods.

Assessing effective approaches to place-based, system change

Given that most initiatives are in the early stages, it is too early at this point to say which approaches to system change are the most effective or have resulted in positive outcomes. However, those initiatives that had started delivery had begun to put in place systems for assessing effectiveness, through monitoring and evaluation processes.

The emerging learning from these experiences identified two key challenges in monitoring and evaluating system change initiatives:

  • Firstly, the capacity of local partners in implementing monitoring frameworks, for example, having the staff capacity to collect and analyse data.
  • Secondly, how to effectively measure long-term system change. In particular, there was a challenge in collecting the ‘softer’ outcomes of system change (for example changes in culture or behaviour), as well as in collecting data across complex, evolving and often loosely defined initiatives, often spanning multiple services and partner organisations.

None of the initiatives had experience yet of scaling up system change initiatives. However, early views were that it would be important to base scale-up endeavours on the principles and values behind the initiatives, rather than aiming for exact replicability, as this would be seen to be working against place-based and person-centred values.

Conclusions and next steps

The findings from this synthesis of the early evidence on system change initiatives show that there are early signs of positive developments and implementation, with those initiatives already delivering reporting positive signs of changing structures and cultures, which were seen to be creating the building blocks for longer-lasting system change.

However, it is clear from the learning so far that system change initiatives also take time to implement, and embed, which is likely to limit early impacts. It is also important to bear in mind the context in which these initiatives are being developed and implemented – against the socio-economic challenges arising from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing cost of living crisis. This context is likely to be increasing the levels of need felt by people using these services.

The evidence so far highlights that alignment across local and national levels is important for the successful design and implementation of system change initiatives, and that partnership working, in particular collaboration and relationship building, takes time to embed. A key learning is the importance of taking the time to develop strong partnerships and relations from the outset in order to enable longer term, sustainable change.

Evidence on impacts at this stage was limited. However, families accessing support appeared to be satisfied with the holistic and personalised nature of support, while service providers spoke positively about the benefits of working in partnership, which resulted in less duplication of effort and enabled the development of new services to better meet the needs of local families.

It will be important for local and national partners, as they continue to implement and develop these initiatives, to further assess the outcomes for different groups in their communities, in order to provide greater understanding of the extent to which they are reaching and having positive impacts for families living in poverty and those most at risk of poverty. This should include consideration of the priority family groups and those facing multiple and intersecting disadvantages. This should enable ongoing improvements to delivery in order to enhance the impact on poverty reduction.


Email: social-justice-analysis@gov.scot

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