Relationship Education Conference 2009
By Dave Percival
Building a National Agenda
Marriage Week 2009 saw the 5th National Relationship Conference held in London, gathering attendees from among practitioners and researchers and policy makers. The title, “Building a national agenda” reflected the report from Relationships Foundation which was produced as a response to the previous conference in 2007, and which sought to build the case for more widespread Relationships Education.
The conference opened with speeches from both Maria Miller (Conservative spokesman on the family, and Annette Brookes (Lib Dem spokesman on Children, Young People and Families). A spokesman from the government (DCSF) was due to address the conference, but sadly withdrew on the day.
Both politicians spoke of their parties support for greater emphasis on preventative measures for family breakdown, including education, and the role of the voluntary sector in providing this.
The conference was then briefed by Michael Clark, Director of Relationships Foundation, on the background and underlying thinking of the report. One key purpose of the conference was to gather views from attendees to inform the conclusions of the final report due in a few weeks.
The conference then got into the meat of the day with a summary overview of the available research on the effectiveness of Relationship Education both in assisting individuals achieve their relational aspirations, and in stabilising couple relationships. The presentation highlighted:
- There is evidence as to the effectiveness of Couple Relationship Education, which whilst not conclusive (and it never could be), offers a clear basis for expanding the delivery, and undertaking further research;
- There is ongoing research in the US which will help develop the case both for the provision of CRE, and for the ways it may be expanded to all groups in society;
- That there needs to be a concerted national strategy to popularise and provide access to CRE alongside development of its provision.
After lunch the conference heard about the extent of provision in the UK currently:
About 15,000 people are being reached with “Marriage Enrichment” and a similar number with intensive marriage preparation. In addition some 120,000 are reached with a lower level of Marriage preparation each year;
There are key areas where development of material and courses are lagging behind the latest research giving opportunity for development in the sector;
To reach a scale to be considered “normal” will need a growth of some 70 times current activity, suggesting a ten year programme will be needed;
There is a clear need for ongoing research and evaluation of the programmes delivered in a UK context.
The conference concluded with a plenary discussion on key further steps which will be reflected in the forthcoming report.