Evidence backs alternative strategy to tackle family conflict and violence

  • Date: 23/11/2016


As a member of the Safe Families, Safe Children (SFSC) coalition, Railway Children helped to produce Breaking the Cycle, a toolkit for working with the most excluded and violent families[1] and has now launched Shaping Stronger Families in England and Kenya, a report exploring the effectiveness of this approach in practice.

Jane Thompson, UK Research and Policy Manager at Railway Children, said: “Nairobi and South Yorkshire may seem worlds apart, but in both places children affected by conflict or violence often have no choice but to leave the family home and end up at risk on the streets.”

Railway Children’s report demonstrates the effectiveness of the SFSC approach in preventing children going back to the streets in Nairobi and from going into care in South Yorkshire. The model focuses on giving support to both child and parent individually and as a family unit to help deal with past trauma and abuse. Success is measured by positive changes in relationships, behaviour, life results (e.g. access to education or work) and, crucially, that these changes can be sustained by the family themselves.

The report is also critical of the UK Government’s Troubled Families Programme, accusing it of stigmatising families by blaming them for their own misfortune and not consistently valuing and measuring the changes in families that matter the most.

“Many families may have benefitted from having a skilled key worker, but until recently success was only measured through reductions in unemployment, truancy and offending,” said Jane Thompson.  “For long-term change to happen, better relationships, reducing violence in the home and addressing the trauma and abuse of both parent and child are essential.

Trauma experienced by the parents in the study included sexual abuse in childhood, poor mental and physical health, domestic violence and drug dependency. Their key workers addressed the health needs of both parents and children to give them the stability needed to support each other in the long term.

“Families exposed to high levels of conflict over long periods of time can become isolated, feel helpless and out of control, contributing to a downward spiral that can lead to deeply entrenched and chronic difficulties,” added Jane Thompson. “We have found an intensive therapeutic and family-based response is more effective in tackling the underlying causes and preventing children going back to the streets in Kenya and into care in England.”

[1] The toolkit is based on the JUCONI model, which has proved successful in repairing relationships and reintegrating some of the most violent and excluded families in Mexico and Ecuador.