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The Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme – Evaluation and Implementation Support

In 2015, The National Lottery Community Fund commissioned CES to work with the ‘Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme’. The aim of the Programme was to support families across Northern Ireland to improve their children's lives by building strong and nurturing relationships. The seven-year programme includes 36 different grant holders.


Infographic: Capturing the learning from the Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme (2021)


Partnership working in the community and voluntary sector (2022)


Rethinking family support: building connections to strengthen families (2022)

The National Lottery Community Fund supports people in communities to improve their health, education and environment. The Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme supports families in Northern Ireland to improve children’s lives by building strong and nurturing relationships. The National Lottery Community Fund has invested £25 million in the Programme, over a five year period, and has contracted CES to provide a range of supports to grant holders.

What's involved?

Each project committed to work towards three Programme outcomes:

  1. More children and their families will have greater skills, knowledge and understanding to overcome adversity
  2. More children and their families will come together to learn
  3. More children and their families will be part of the community that they live in

To achieve these outcomes, projects provided a wide range of activities, programmes and supports to children, parents, families, extended families, groups, communities and professionals. These can be categorised under five broad areas:

  • Group based activities
  • Family focused activities
  • School based supports
  • Therapeutic supports
  • Support/capacity building for professionals

Each grant holder organisation worked in partnership with at least one other voluntary/community sector organisation and/or statutory service.

Video Hearing the voices of families

CES's Role

CES has worked with the 36 projects to understand and respond to their changing needs over the course of the Programme. Each year we have delivered learning and networking events, masterclasses and hands-on workshops. These cover themes such as engaging parents, trauma informed practice, hearing the child’s voice, storytelling, social and digital media, partnership working, project implementation and evaluation.

CES “offered a space for honest reflection and exploration of what was working/what was not working with various aspects of everyone’s projects.”


Video Reaching Out, Supporting Families animation

We have also worked closely with the grant holders and partners to capture the learning from the Programme. We want to understand what has been achieved, and what has been effective in terms of family support practice and the implementation of five-year funded projects.

CES has worked in partnership with the Parenting Research Centre, Melbourne, Australia.

Report The Story So Far (2019)

What changed?

A review of projects’ evaluation reports over the five years tells us the key changes observed during the Programme are:

Change 1: Increased confidence. For families, that means…

  • Higher levels of self-esteem – parents and children generally feeling better about and within themselves.
  • Increased confidence in parenting/caring role – a better understanding of their child’s needs and strategies to address those needs.

Change 2: Enhanced wellbeing. For families, that means…

  • Improved relationships – between children and parents, as well as other family relationships; better communication and a greater sense of trust.
  • Increased ability to cope – including feeling more resilient and reduced levels of stress/anxiety
  • Better health – both in terms of physical and mental health.

Change 3: Reduced isolation. For families, that means…

  • Building relationships – making friends, development of peer support etc.
  • Shared experiences – support received through sharing knowledge and experience in a safe place.
  • Increased knowledge of other supports.
Video Melanie Stone talks about the Reaching Out Supporting Families programme in Northern Ireland


Our Capturing the Learning programme has found five elements agreed to be important for effective family support practice and implementation of the Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme.

1. Understanding the diverse nature of adversity

The families supported are facing a wide range of adversities, including poverty and financial pressures; health issues and disability; trauma; violence and abuse; stigma, exclusion and discrimination.

Combined or intersecting adversities can fuel each other, pushing families further into disadvantage and isolation, compounding their hardship.

2. Partnership with families.

An enabling factor for partnership working with families is adopting a relationship-based approach. Investing time and effort in building and maintaining relationships with families allows them to feel safe and to trust the service.

The voluntary nature of the Programme supports true partnership with families; projects have also developed a range of effective approaches to encourage initial engagement.

3. Flexibility

Families impacted by multiple sources of disadvantage and adversity are sometimes referred to as “hard to reach”, but this term is problematic. To ensure it is not they who are hard to reach, projects in the Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme developed services that are simple to access, and flexible in their approach to addressing families’ identified needs. One size does not fit all.

4. Using a ‘whole family’ approach

The Programme is based on a whole family, connected approach which acknowledges that children are part of families, communities, schools, and recognises the fundamental importance of involving that ecology in approaches to supporting families.

5. Working in partnership

Partnership working does not just happen, but needs to be cultivated, invested in and led, even after it has been formally negotiated and agreed. Effective collaboration between family support services – voluntary and statutory – brings rewards for families working with more than one organisation.

Infographic Capturing the learning from the Reaching Out, Supporting Families Programme (2021)

Support has been readily available and easily accessed. CES have been really supportive and essential advice has been received on numerous occasions.