A qualitative study of parents' experiences using family support services: applying the concept of surface and depth

Whittaker, Karen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-3493-9396, Cox, Pat orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2565-4564, Thomas, Nigel orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5310-9144 and Cocker, Karen (2014) A qualitative study of parents' experiences using family support services: applying the concept of surface and depth. Health and Social Care in the Community, 22 (5). pp. 479-487. ISSN 0966-0410

[thumbnail of Author Accepted Manuscript]
PDF (Author Accepted Manuscript) - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.


Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12101


UK policy and practice endorses family support for child well-being. Achieving such support requires multi-agency approaches, that consider all aspects of parents’ and children’s lives and which offer practical, social and emotional help. The potential for services to make a positive impact on parents and their families will depend in part on the level and nature of engagement. In this paper a case is made for the application of the two-part ‘surface and depth’ concept for understanding how practitioners engage with families and how they might improve the chances of supporting sustainable differences for parents and families. To illustrate, qualitative data from a review of family centre support provided by a north of England local authority, are presented. The review was commissioned to explore why families often need to re-engage with intensive support services. Data are drawn from interviews with parents (n=18, recruited following a survey of all those registered with the service during April – May 2009) and discussions with family centre support workers (n=4) and following thematic analysis three dominant themes emerged: ‘resources available’, ‘staff approach’ and ‘real life’, were appraised in light of the ‘surface and depth’ concept. Much of the work with parents effectively dealt with pressing needs. This felt gratifying for both parent and worker and supported immediate service engagement. However, each noted that the more complex issues in parents’ lives went unchallenged and thus the sustainability of progress in terms of parenting practice was questionable. A ‘strengths focused’ approach by staff, that understood needs in the context of parents’ ‘real life’ circumstances was important to parent engagement. Thus, longer term benefits from family support requires practitioners to work with parents to problem solve immediate issues whilst also digging deeper to acknowledge and seek to resolve the more complex challenges parents face in their real lives.

Repository Staff Only: item control page