72. Lone parent support
72.1. Short description
The lone parent support project was delivered by Employment Needs Training Agency (ENTA) and partners, and offered a holistic approach to addressing barriers to work for lone parents. Once contacted people were assessed, agreed an action plan and then received on-going support and mentoring from the project team (this continued once they had a job or placement). Training had always been an issue for many lone parents as this was not always child-friendly. The project funded some child care and travel costs to volunteering and training sessions and clients were able to bring their children into the project (unlike the case for many other statutory agencies) and this helped with issues surrounding child care. The funding for the project came through the Innovation Fund of the WNF.
72.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The project offered a holistic approach to addressing barriers to work for lone parents. Project partners developed a range of activities to secure the initial engagement of the target group. All partners had local bases within the target areas and therefore offered local access points for recruitment and delivery. Eligibility was determined by the area someone lived and users had to be unemployed, 19 years old or over and a lone parent. Individuals could self-refer to the project.
After contacting the project, an initial client assessment was undertaken using a range of assessment tools. The assessment led to the completion of an agreed action plan for the individual, which could be tracked by the service user and the responsible officer. The action plans included short, medium and long-term actions. The clients received on-going support and mentoring from the project team and support continued once a job or placement was secured. A benefits advisor was appointed as this was identified as a particular need by ENTA and helped to address people’s fears about coming off benefits. The advisor went into all centres, partners and job clubs to advise on getting benefit roll-on and housing benefit. They also advised on debt, as this could be a major barrier for clients getting into work.
The project had a particular impact on people who were long-term unemployed and enabled them to compete for jobs on a more equal footing. Being able to sit with someone and talk through their concerns was a key benefit of the project for many of the service users. The individuals concerned were very vulnerable and the project enabled them to deal with issues at their own pace with staff considered friendly and approachable. Clients were able to bring their children into the project and this helped with issues surrounding child care.
72.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The contract in Erdington was managed and delivered by ENTA, working in partnership with Merlin Venture. The project also involved a consortium of 22 partner organisations with a track record of working with groups who were a long way from employment, training and education. Of these between 10 and 12 were considered to be very active within the project. ENTA was a community interest company that had been working across Birmingham since 1977. It aimed to “work with the community to improve lives and provide opportunities and empowerment for people living in and around the city”.
The project aimed to engage and support lone parents from Erdington, Stockland Green, Tyburn and Kingstanding wards in Birmingham to access employment. Erdington Constituency also paid for the benefits advisor to offer advice on debt, benefits and housing benefit support. Staff members were trained in information, advice and guidance, which helped them to deal with a range of issues.
72.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
Lone parents were identified as one of the priority groups by the local strategic partnership and individual projects were commissioned specifically to target these groups. Partnership working worked well and the project helped to enhance the organisation’s reputation, capacity building and profile with other services but not specifically within local politics or authorities. It was a small-scale, pilot project with time-limited funding and therefore had little opportunity to impact on the wider local welfare system.