Relationship Support through Training in Public Services / by Mark Weber

The capacity of people to establish and maintain relationships at home, at work and in our wider social networks is a key determinant of health and wellbeing throughout our lives.[i] [ii]

Relational capability refers to a person’s capacity to develop and maintain healthy relationships, and investing in this can protect and promote the wellbeing of individuals, communities and society.  Evidence shows that people who have healthy relationships make good friends, partners, employees and members of society, and live longer and healthier lives.[iii] [iv]People who, for a variety of reasons, lack the skills required for good relationships can be helped and supported to learn those skills. Without these attributes, people have a reduced capacity to live full and healthy lives.  This in turn affects their ability to parent effectively, and to contribute as effectively as possible to their workplace, and community.

Chronic and poorly resolved conflict within families is particularly harmful to children, with evidence showing strong associations with long-term psychological difficulties including emotional and behavioural problems, difficulties settling and performing at school, problems with peers and others, trouble sleeping and other health related outcomes[1]. Such impacts may be present in both ‘intact’ couples and also parents who remain in conflict after separation. How parents manage and resolve conflict is crucial to children’s healthy development.[v]

Commissioning relationship support services is dependent upon a well-trained and relationally capable workforce. Health visitors, midwives, Children’s Centre staff, social workers, social care staff and other professionals frequently encounter couple relationship issues. Unfortunately, the opportunities to offer support are often missed or ignored simply because staff don’t have the training to feel comfortable discussing relationship issues, or to know how to meet the need. Training can enable frontline professionals to recognise relationship problems, enable clients to talk about them, offer some initial resources to help them deal with the problem, and refer on to other support when necessary.

Therefore a programme of training and engagement with front-line staff will promote greater awareness of the negative impacts of poor quality relationships on a whole range of people’s lives. A programme of training should teach the workforce to identify, address and support parents with relationship stresses and strains and make effective referrals to specialist services.   Changing front line practice through training increases the value and impact of front line resources, engaging with whole families rather than just individuals.  A shift from working with individual “symptoms” to paying due attention to the “relational context” enhances the development of whole family resilience and helps find solutions to difficulties they are experiencing.



[1] Cummings, E.M. and Davies, P.T. (2010) Marital conflict and children: an emotional security perspective. New York: The Guildford Press.

[i] Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS medicine7(7), e1000316.

[ii] Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior51(1 suppl), S54-S66. Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (2000). Interpersonal flourishing: A positive health agenda for the new millennium. Personality and Social Psychology Review4(1), 30-44

[iii] Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (2000). Interpersonal flourishing: A positive health agenda for the new millennium. Personality and Social Psychology Review4(1), 30-44

[iv] Seaman, P., McNeice, V., Yates, G., & McLean, J. (2014). Resilience for public health. Glasgow Centre for Population Health.

[v] Harold, G. T., & Leve, L. D. (2012). Parents as partners: how the parental relationship affects children’s psychological development. in Balfour A, Morgan M, Vincent C. (Eds) How Couple Relationships Shape Our World:  Clinical Practice, Research and Policy Perspectives. Karnac