Exploring the outcomes of Thrive: Short‐medium term - Parents, families and foster carers

9th October 2020 | Impact Reports

This report begins to piece together the Theory of Change for Thrive, a story of how Thrive impacts on the world through its varying outcomes and the relationship between them. 

These relationships are important, as often one outcome will lead to another. Similarly, an outcome for one set of stakeholders will have ramifications for others. Despite its inherent simplicity in terms of approach, the way that Thrive is implemented and the contextual factors that shape this implementation are often complex and non‐linear, and the storyboard of outcomes reflects this.

Despite the need for in‐depth exploratory work to tease out and piece together the outcomes, it was important not to lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, the aim was to assemble an impact map of material outcomes for the computation of an Social Return on Investment ratio; material outcomes being those which are both relevant and significant. Often such outcomes weren’t immediately identified but emerged from in‐depth discussions around the way that Thrive can play out in varying situations and the myriad of factors that influence its trajectory along the way.

The fact that one outcome will often lead to another means that the material outcome may in some cases be a secondary outcome, or happen indirectly as a result of something else. Timeframes are therefore important and as such the interviewees were also asked to consider the extent to which outcomes happen over the short, medium and long term, as well as the factors that can make one outcome lead to another across these timeframes.

An obvious question then is, how were short, medium and long term defined? Discussions around this were undertaken with all interviewees, and the answer (as one might expect) was that it is not straight forward, it is context dependent and is influenced by the age and developmental stage of the child receiving Thrive.

Broadly speaking it was felt that initial changes could be expected to be noticed within the first 3 months of implementing a Thrive action plan; although in some cases this initial phase could extend up to 6 or 9 months. When considering medium term impacts it seemed logical to consider a time period ranging from around 6‐9 months up to 3 or 4 years, depending on specific contexts or circumstances.

So in the majority of cases discussion around longer term outcomes encompassed those which might occur beyond 3 or 4 years but potentially up to 10 or even 20 years following the implementation of Thrive.

The precise definitions weren’t as important as the process of thinking about how outcomes might play out over various timeframes. Thinking this way helped interviewees to not only identify the outcomes, but also to consider how they might lead to further outcomes and what the longer term ramifications might be. Thus it became very much a part of piecing the story together, with the temporal elements forming the structure of the storyboard.

Nevertheless, the loose definition of time frames poses a question of how best to present the findings so as to illustrate the temporal nature of the outcomes, and of course the relationship between them. To achieve this, outcomes are divided loosely between those that occur over the short‐medium term, and those that occur over the medium‐longer term.

Also following the pattern and substance of what was derived in the interviews, and to avoid any confusion or ambiguities, the outcomes are structured around stakeholder type, although in a number of cases an outcome for one stakeholder may have important ramifications for another. The case of how changes in a child’s behaviour might impact on their parents or siblings being an obvious example.
In a series of short impact reports, the outcomes are described for the following sets of stakeholders.

Short‐medium term outcomes - Parents, families and foster carers


"There is a growing partnership and relationship between school and parents. Parent relationships [were] strong anyway but now have more depth and more structure and more consistency. And there is more kudos to it now; parents know that it's nationwide, that it's professional, and that gives them confidence. It's based on such powerful evidence."


All interviewees emphasised strongly the significant outcomes that Thrive can have for the parents and families of children with interruptions. One important aspect of this is that relationships between the school and parents are strengthened. In building stronger links with parents/carers, teachers are then able to increase their confidence so that they know how to better support their child’s education and in turn gain a better understanding of their child’s internal landscape.

The principle reason that it happens again comes back to the self awareness of the teacher of the carer. Just as Thrive trained teachers are better able to recognise and understand the behavioural problems of the children, they can then extend this openness and empathy to parents, with profound consequences. On one level this can build trust with the parents, which in turn helps to build community cohesion.


"For parents to know that teachers really care about their own situation and that teachers want to help is massive. With the Thrive work that we’ve done, we’ve started to build [relationships] with families that we wouldn’t normally get to know. And they’ve started to share things with us, and I think make themselves quite vulnerable because they know that we’re not being fickle about it. And I think the long term impact of that has huge potential because actually if you involve parents you can connect to their lifelong learning."


The biggest caveat to this is that it can often be the parents/carers that teachers most want to see that are the hardest to reach, for example because they don’t attend parents evenings or they are less accessible during home and arrival times. And this becomes even more significant where the teacher recognises that the parents also have similar interruptions to the child, which can often be the case. In these cases it is felt that the ones that really need help the most and more reluctant to engage, and the teacher is then unable to spend long enough with the parent/carer to develop any real lasting changes.

Nevertheless, it is apparent that the Thrive approach is, in many cases, being indirectly extended beyond the child to their parents/carers and families. While in some cases the parents are simply happy to (finally) see some progress and sustained improvement in the behaviour of their child and their ability to form relationships, in many other cases it runs deeper than that, and the teachers are able, through modeling and through extending their empathy and understanding, to address emotional problems that are engrained within the family, and possibly have been for a number of generations.


"We have been working with some parents who’ve been wanting to diagnose their child; actually when you start looking back at it, its an interruption that they’ve had themselves… they are still stuck in a certain area so they are not actually in a position to provide that parenting. They are doing the best they can but its their own interruptions that are having an impact on the way they are bringing up their child."


The recognition of this pattern means that schools are becoming more aware not only of the role of parents in assisting with a child’s development, but also of what the parents own needs might be, and as such being more supportive of the relationship that they build with parents.


"You get stock phrases like ‘I’m here to teach I’m not a social worker. How do you expect me to teach when the child goes home to parents who are incompetent. It wasn’t unusual to hear language like that. Whereas now, those who’ve been Thrive trained…they’re now less judgmental, there’s better acceptance. There’s the feeling that, well we might not be social workers but its got to be somebody’s job to look after this child and the parents clearly aren’t in a place where they can do that."


So, whether teachers are having an indirect impact on parents and families through building relationships and trust as part of the child’s Thrive Action Plan or explicitly recognizing the challenges of parents and extending their empathy through modeling Thrive practice, the potential outcomes for parents and families over the medium term are potentially very significant.

One interviewee described a situation which summarises well the possible trajectory of outcome. It involves a child who was identified at nursery with aggressive and really distressed behaviour, and what could only be described as ‘catastrophically complicated’ home circumstances. Although the mother wanted to help she was unpredictable because of her own life history, moods and substance abuse. And the father resisted help and refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with his son, ultimately resisting what he saw as the interference of the ‘middle class in his life’.


"I have seen the child 2 years later. Dad has changed his approach, he is much less harsh and much readier with his praise for his child. It’s not a constant barrage of criticism, there is much more balance, more praise. Dad has also stopped blaming Mum. For the child, you wouldn’t know that that he was child with social and emotional difficulties. He is polite, helpful, caring, plays very nicely, gets on with his work. He seems to be functioning very well. Mum and Dad aren’t together anymore but you could speculate that if that pattern continues.. if either of them go onto have more children then I think it [Thrive] will influence how they go on to parent those children. And they both have new partners so one could speculate that those relationships are also affected by it. I’d be surprised if they weren’t because both of them are some much happier as people in themselves. That’s not solely due to Thrive but I’m sure that played a part."


This pattern of outcome will be picked up again in the following section where the longer‐term ramifications are considered. Of course, it is also important to recognise the potential outcomes of Thrive for the siblings of children with interruptions, and the siblings born later who will benefit from the change in attitude and philosophy that Thrive affords the parents. With greater self‐esteem and self‐awareness it has already been witnessed that the desire to hurt or annoy siblings is reduced; children who have been exposed to Thrive are inherently more tolerant of each other within their own families. Sibling relationships are likely to improve because the individual children’s needs are better met and therefore not acted out on siblings. Looking forward to the birth of future siblings in the family the potential trajectory of outcomes from Thrive is already starting to become clear.

Over to you

Reduced anxiety and behavioural incidents. Calmer classrooms filled with engaged leaners. Improved relationships with parents and carers. These are just some of the outcomes reported by settings embedding Thrive’s whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. Are you ready to join them? Click here to get started.

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