This evaluation has focused on the work of The Red Hen Project in the CB4 area of Cambridge over the past two years. The evaluation draws together the views and opinions of a range of people involved in various ways with the Project sought during late summer and early Autumn 2021.
This report is based on the views and opinions from a number of sources listed in the introduction, including surveys and phone interviews with parents and carers, staff and trustees, heads and other school staff, other agencies and partners, and a Zoom interview with a child.
There is remarkable coherence in the overwhelmingly positive views and opinions that people have expressed about the project. There is a strong picture of a much-appreciated organisation, with the parents, schools and other organisations speaking incredibly highly of the project, its workers and its impact. People from different perspectives had similar perceptions of the project; these consistent views are a good indication that Red Hen clearly conveys to people the message of what it is about and what it does.
This small-scale, predominantly qualitative evaluation has found that the project has successfully built relationships with families and has provided them with support tailored to their needs. They report considerable benefits to themselves, their children and their family life.
I like to think it has benefited my son, well, all of them. My greater confidence helped him at school. The support I got helped me support him better. I was able to help him more because of the help I was getting.
The organisation’s clear and shared value base and how the workers put this into practice are seen as the key ingredients to enabling Red Hen to support parents often at tough times of their lives. Their values inform their approach, and they can engage with parents who often find it challenging to access support in other ways.
A wide range of outcomes was identified by parents, who said that as a result of working with Red Hen they:
• had more confidence in their parenting
• learnt and implemented parenting strategies to deal with children’s challenging behaviour
• were better able to address problems at school
• had greater understanding of different aspects of family situations
• had experienced improved relationships within the family
• reduced stress
• increased their understanding of their children
• helped them learn and implement better ways of speaking with their children
• increased their self-esteem and self-confidence.
It has been a very big help. We feel very supported. I think [worker] gets us and understands us. She is not on anyone’s side. We both feel listened to. She gives us ideas of how to approach things and then we try them out ourselves.
These were also strongly supported by school staff.
Red Hen helps with routines that help children at school. Bedtime routines mean they will be less tired, a morning routine means they come to school having had breakfast. Routines help with having time to read and write it in the reading diary. All these things can make home calmer and more settled and relaxing and so children come to school better able to get the most out of it.
Parents only used the top numbers 6-10 when asked how helpful Red Hen has been to them, using a scale of 1 to 10, with 74% of the 69 parents ranking Red Hen’s helpfulness as 10, (where 10 is very helpful).
As evidenced by this evaluation, Red Hen is very satisfactorily meeting all of its aims.
Sometimes parents do not have the confidence to engage with school; they are not confident around school. Often, they had a bad time at school themselves. This can show in all sorts of ways – distance, aggression, absence. Red Hen helps bridge that gap. Red Hen gives parents knowledge and information about school, they can attend meetings with parents and help them prepare what they want to say.
Major challenges to the work of Red Hen were seen to be the lack of other complimentary or more specialised support for families. When available these had limited capacity, and high thresholds of access restrict their usefulness. In addition, levels of poverty facing families greatly increased challenges.
There was minimal identification of gaps or developments that could be pursued; these suggestions do not undermine the high level of provision overall. Rather they provide goals to aim for to achieve an ever-improving service in the future.
However, the one challenge that is clearly articulated by Trustees and managers is the financial security and sustainability of the model in the future. The evaluation shows that there are a range of options that could be considered, but great care will need to be taken to ensure that options do not change the essential essence of Red Hen. Its values, its local embeddedness and connections, and its ability to tailor support to the specific needs of each family are what makes it so valuable to the community.
One thing that makes it work is it is local people doing local work. There are a number of parents that used to get support from Red Hen that now volunteer – they are great ambassadors for Red Hen. When other parents hear them talk about what Red Hen helped them with, it says a lot. The local reputation is excellent.
Red Hen manages a complex set of relationships with several schools, Early Help and other funders extremely well. In addition, it has excellent relationships with other agencies it works in partnership with to support families in the area. All these agencies included in the evaluation spoke very highly of the work, and felt Red Hen was meeting its objectives and also supporting them in achieving their own.
Red Hen have the community attachment and work well to integrate families back into community support and reduce reliance on professionals. This is an area of work Early Help used to do, but no longer has any capacity for. Without it, Early Help was seeing more re-referrals back into Early Help and Social Care, as once professional support finished there was nothing. But Red Hen with the groups and signposting, for example to sports activities for children or parent’s groups, do this well. They connect a family back into the community.
If that leaflet had not been put in my bag I don’t know where we would be as a family now, I don’t know what life would be like. Then turning up at a coffee morning seemed impossible; I needed another adult who was kind and friendly and reassuring telling me I was doing OK. We would not be doing half the things we are today without that leaflet. They have had a super positive impact on the whole family, but most particularly me.