Challenges from the frontline

Topics: Safeguarding and child protection

Supporting families with multiple adversities in Scotland during a time of austerity

This report investigates how the challenges of welfare reform and austerity policies are affecting work with vulnerable families in Scotland. The researchers interviewed staff at 14 Intensive Family Support Services run by Barnardo’s Scotland.

The report highlights that the way we support families who are struggling with complex challenges has to change, because the scale and severity of the pressures on these families is changing.

This research was conducted by NSPCC and Barnardo's Scotland.

Authors: Kirsty Scullin and Susan Galloway
Published: 2014

 Key findings

  • More families are presenting to services in a state of crisis even when these are designed to deliver early intervention or preventative work.
  • The cumulative effect of benefit sanctions, benefit delays, price rises in basic commodities such as food and energy is tipping more families into crisis and aggravating pre-existing difficulties such as mental health problems, substance misuse and relationship breakdown.
  • The severity of need is visibly growing and caseloads are increasingly complex.
  • Services are finding they need to meet basic material needs and stabilise home conditions before intensive family support work can begin.
  • The “whole family” approach is in danger of being undermined by the difficult spending decisions public bodies are having to make.
  • Services are being forced to shift on those with more severe needs, leading to opportunities for early interventions being missed.
  • Shifting resources towards the early years means there are sometimes insufficient resources for vulnerable teenagers.
  • Services are having difficulty maintaining the strong, secure and consistent relationships between families and trusted professionals, which are critical factors in supporting families, because of the impact of funding uncertainty.

Recent Scottish Government legislation gives us the opportunity to reshape the way public services respond, to ensure that we can meet the challenge of growing poverty and adversity. They need to tackle child and family poverty so that children’s services can focus on providing support to children and families with the most complex needs.


Please cite as: Scullin, K. et al. (2014) Challenges fromthe frontline: supporting families with multiple adversities in a time of austerity. Edinburgh: NSPCC Scotland.