Steps to Safety: report on the feasibility study

Topics: Domestic abuse Safeguarding and child protection Early years

Evaluating our service supporting parents at risk of domestic abuse

Steps to Safety was an early intervention programme for parents of children under 5-years-old. It aimed to prevent domestic abuse from happening by helping parents identify and manage their emotions, and interact positively with each other and their children.

We commissioned the University of Oxford to evaluate the feasibility of the service to find out:

  • the effectiveness of referral routes into the programme
  • how easy it was to implement
  • what impact the intervention had on participating families.

Although we are no longer delivering Steps to Safety, we’ll use what we’ve learnt to inform the design of new services for families with young children.

Authors: Anita Schrader McMillan and Jane Barlow
Published: 2019

Download the report (PDF)


Key findings

Our findings highlight the complexity of balancing safe assessments with parental engagement.

Parents told us their motivation to engage with the service was to improve things for their children, and their willingness to engage increased as they saw more success. Having safe, focused assessments and using a modular structure that can be tailored to each family helped parents engage further with the service.

Additional findings

  • Changes to referral pathways could help the service to engage more families, for example by widening referral networks to include more organisations and services that routinely reach families experiencing problems but not involved with social services.
  • There were considerable advantages to working with couples together in the home, such as enabling them to reflect together, practice new skills and communicate more effectively.
  • Practitioners valued training to deliver the programme. They recommended having booster sessions at periodic intervals.

> Listen to our podcast episode detailing further outcomes from the study


“It is about getting [parents] to practise things that when the programme finishes, they’ll hopefully embed and practice, so I thought it was really useful.”


“I’ve come away after doing a session with a couple and feeling like we’ve worked hard and that we’re effecting some change.”


“[Parents] felt they were leaving the work in a place where they were equipped; they had skills.”



Please cite as: Schrader McMillan, A. and Barlow, J. (2019) Steps to safety: report on the feasibility study. London: NSPCC.