Thursday, 14 April 2016

Evaluating the Young Mothers’ Service using contribution analysis: lessons learned

From 2014 to 2015, CRFR's co-director Sarah Morton and PhD student Cara Blaisdell worked with West Lothian Council’s Early Intervention Team to develop a framework for evaluating their suite of services, using contribution analysis. In this blog post, Cara reflects on their work with one of these services - the Young Mothers’ Service. This is a keyworking programme in West Lothian that supports pregnant and parenting women under the age of 25.

What is contribution analysis?

In a contribution analysis approach, evaluators identify the outcome that a service hopes to improve, and develop a ‘theory of change’ about how the service will bring about that improvement (Better Evaluation 2015). This theory is expressed visually, in the form of a results chain showing how each stage of the project links to the next. Our CRFR briefing on the project goes into more detail about how we used contribution analysis in this evaluation. Other resources on contribution analysis are linked to at the end of this post.


What were the results of the evaluation?

The evaluation showed positive results about how the keyworkers supported the young women. Feedback from young mothers indicated that they found their keyworkers supportive and had improved confidence:

‘They took everything I was going through into consideration.’

‘I’m very much more confident by myself and all the support I needed was met’.

‘Don’t think I’d be where I am today without my keyworker’s help. Thanks a lot!’

Other results from the evaluation showed:

  • A high level of take-up of the service, with only one young mother declining when the service was offered 
  • Young mothers experienced reduced depression and anxiety 
  • 10 children removed from the Child Protection Register 
  • Mothers were more aware of support that was available to them—for example, help with accessing benefit entitlements, help with finding a secure place to live, or attending local parenting groups for peer support 
  • Eight mothers were supported to enter full-time employment, with 14 others working toward this goal
  • All young mothers were approached about experiences of domestic and sexual abuse—revealing a 75% prevalence rate. Support was offered in partnership with the Domestic and Sexual Assault Team.


What did we learn about using contribution analysis?

  • Working collaboratively with keyworkers and the service manager put the emphasis on learning through evaluation, rather than external judgement.  
  • The service manager and keyworkers said that the evaluation prompted useful reflections about their work.  
  • Training in contribution analysis and ongoing support were important. 
  • Collecting quantitative data was straightforward, but it was more challenging to compile qualitative data in a systematic way. 
  • We needed to work within the constraints of high workloads. 
  • We needed to offer multiple routes for service users to give feedback, including finding ways to take into account the informal feedback that arose from relationships between young mothers and keyworkers.

For more about this evaluation, and further reflections on what we learned about using contribution analysis, see CRFR Briefing 79: Evaluating the Young Mothers’ Service using contribution analysis: lessons learned.

Additional (open access) resources about contribution analysis: John Mayne, who developed the approach, has written a short briefing about contribution analysis. Sarah Morton, who has developed a specialism in contribution analysis at CRFR, has spoken and blogged about her experience with the approach. There are also useful literature reviews available from Better Evaluation and IRISS.

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