Presenting to MPs and academics in Westminster
Last week I presented at the first of a series of three round table discussions about introducing supportive early intervention programmes into the UK from another setting. The series was set up by the Foundation Years Information and Research, a collaboration of academics, policy makers and professionals that aims to promote the importance of early life experiences for later health, development and wellbeing. Along with other members of the Building Blocks trial team – Julia Sanders and Kerry Hood – we travelled to Portcullis, Westminster, for the meeting chaired by Karen Buck, MP.
Evaluating the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP)
This first meeting was set around our own experiences of evaluating the Family Nurse Partnership in the Building Blocks trial. This US derived home visiting scheme was introduced to England in 2006 and, at different times, to other countries around the world and so is a fantastic case-study around which to set the series. I was delighted that our steering committee chair Professor Ann Louise Kinmonth took the lead in setting out the broader evaluation context and that together we developed the meeting programme. Professor David Olds who developed the programme in the US joined us virtually by pre-recorded interview to provide a wonderful description of how it was originated and developed in the US. Both Ailsa Swarbrick (FNP National Unit Director) and Louise Morpeth (CEO, Dartington Social Research Unit) completed the panel to talk about how they have tackled the challenge of responding to the results of our trial, published in The Lancet.
Response to study results
Our trial results did not provide substantive support for the short-term impact of the programme, surprising many people, and disappointing many who currently provide it to client families in England. In the UK, we have a large number of families (in this case, of first-time teenage mothers) facing real challenges in trying to raise happy and healthy children and in providing the best start in life for their children. In such situations it is right to ask serious questions about what has happened:
- Was it the right programme?
- Was it the right population?
- Was it the right evaluation?
- Was it the right way to implement?
- What next for FNP and what next for other innovations to support families?
Reflections on study
After Professor Kinmonth established the framework for the meeting, I set about looking at what we had found in the trial. Mostly I aimed to look at the way in which our own team and other commentators had reflected on our ‘unexpected’ results and examine the basis for these. Of course in our main results paper we have already reported on some of this but this was an opportunity to both further reflect and dig a bit deeper where we could. Preparing for the meeting and the discussion that followed was particularly useful as we are currently preparing papers from the study’s process evaluation, which will pick up on some of these themes.
Policy makers engaged
As Chatham House rules applied, I’ll not detail the discussion or contributors but did foster a frank examination around the topic. Our own thoughts will emerge in other fora, as mentioned above but the opportunity to review and discuss how evidence can be generated and used objectively to inform policy-making was invaluable.
As a researcher it was particularly useful to hear how other stakeholders – policy leads, practitioner and academics (including you own colleagues!) interpret and prioritise your findings. It keeps you sharp and hopefully a better researcher. It is heartening to know that this topic has the direct interest of policy makers and events like this can sharpen our efforts to support high quality interventions to support families.
From Wikipedia: Portcullis House (PCH) is an office building in Westminster, London, UK, that was commissioned in 1992 and opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 members of parliament and their staff. Part of the Parliamentary Estate, the building augments limited space in the Palace of Westminster and surroundings.