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Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities

The Intervention – Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities Programme (EPEC)

EPEC is a community-based programme, training local parents to run parenting groups (in pairs) through early years and parenting focused services. Parent facilitators trained to work in the EPEC programme are volunteers, supported and supervised by specially trained practitioners. Developed and tested by the UK Centre for Parent and Child Support (UK CPCS, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust). This National EPEC Team offers support with implementation and training to sites across the UK.

EPEC parent course encompass theoretical knowledge and practical skills helpful in supporting parents and enabling children to flourish.  EPEC’s peer-led approach extends the reach and scope of parenting support beyond traditional practitioner-led approaches. The core course for parents with children aged 2-11 is “Being a Parent-” (BAP), with 8 x 2 hour sessions delivered according to a structured manual which uses attachment, social learning, family system, relational and social learning theories and approaches. To access further information about Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities click here.


The Services – Sheffield Parenting Hub, Sheffield City Council

Liz Hill, Sheffield EPEC Hub Co-ordinator and Team Leader Specialist (Parenting), Strategy and Commissioning – People’s Service and Lynn Wragg, Community Volunteer Co-ordinator for Zest, helped to explain Sheffield’s implementation journey.

Sheffield City Council were part of the second wave of the NESTA/DCMS funded EPEC Scaling Programme (2017-19) which tested the rapid expansion of EPEC across 15 new areas in England. Sheffield became an EPEC hub in 2018 and Liz Hill has been coordinating staff training in EPEC since then. Sheffield City Council has been implementing EPEC through the Sheffield Parenting Hub (People’s Service).  The Sheffield Parenting Hub is a large team, with 17 specialist parenting practitioners who cover a family of schools in Sheffield, approximately 38 secondary schools and their respective feeder primary schools. The team work with the multi-agency support team, including education, health and social care, and voluntary sector organisations including work with the Sheffield family centres, GPs, health visiting and midwifery. The Sheffield Parenting Hub commissioned a local community organisation called Zest (a one-stop shop community organisation with a hub building in the heart of Sheffield) after tender to help recruit, train and support a cohort of volunteer parent group leaders. Zest has a library, swimming pool and gym, community café, children’s activities, advice and support are available in relation to health and wellbeing, employment, and parenting support (for parents of children from birth to teenagers). Liz feels that such expertise has been invaluable to the success of EPEC in Sheffield. 

NEED – Making the Decision about EPEC 

Local need: Liz explained Sheffield is a growing urban city with a population of over 600,000 due to immigration and relatively high birth rates. Zest is based in a very multicultural area of the city with a diverse range of languages spoken (e.g. Arabic, Chinese).  Lynn feels that a key to the success of EPEC is the sense of inclusion and connection it gives to individuals through the community, networking and support that it provides. “Parents knowing that they [group leaders] are willing to stand up and be the spokesperson and support families, it reaches out to those people and includes them.”

Programme Selection: EPEC was initially commissioned as part of the Reducing Parental Conflict (RPC) programme, developed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Sheffield was chosen as one of the Being a Parent Together (BAPT) pilot sites and NESTA funding was used for Being a Parent (BAP). Sheffield Council were recruited as a host organisation in the second wave of the EPEC Scaling Programme in 2018. In 2018, fifteen new partner organisations were recruited to develop EPEC Hubs in NHS Trusts, local authorities and NGOs across England, Sheffield City Council agreed to test the effectiveness of EPEC due to their diverse range of disadvantaged communities.

Liz explained that her manager, Candi Lawson (Strategic Commissioning Manager, Sheffield City Council) worked with Senior Management to ensure the required financial resources were committed, and she was involved in the planning for a sustainable model to deliver EPEC beyond the period of the Scaling Programme. Candi initially looked at demographic data to identify 3 of the most deprived areas in Sheffield. Candi also spoke with Wave 1 sites to find out what implementation of EPEC involved.

Intended outcome: Liz explained that the intended outcome of EPEC is to achieve better outcomes for children and families. EPEC fits with the priorities of the service by improving health and wellbeing of families, helping to improve people's life chances through creating opportunities to access work and education by promoting individual parents’ confidence, skills and knowledge. In Sheffield they have found EPEC reduces children’s behavioural problems and having peer-led parent group leaders has helped to improve retention rates in populations and communities that would not necessarily access support through professional services.

Lynn also explained how the benefits of EPEC to volunteers is life changing, by improving group leaders’ confidence, qualifications and employability as many have gone on to gain employment or access education.

“The Parent Group Leaders can now speak in public as some have never done previously. Their children are more confident and they’re more confident in their own parenting skills, their confidence has improved so much, the families are connecting with each other. They are learning from each other, supporting each other.”


The opportunities to gain support from others and build connections is also a huge benefit. “Some of the families, live in the same community and they've never met each other…They chat with each other at the school gates, become friends, get a wider circle of friendships and a support network… making new connections …within their communities.” 

One Chinese parent group leader (PGL) who has promoted EPEC in Sheffield and in China explained how EPEC increased her confidence, “I received a lot of support and my life is getting better. I want to share this course with other parents...with more experience the parent have, the better they can get along with the kids.”

Local Reach: In terms of targeting the programme, initially the programme was for demographically deprived areas with workless households, however, it is now open to everybody.

For each group there are a minimum of 6 and a maximum of about 12 parents. Delivery is term based, every term 7 groups run (1 Being a Parent Together, 3 Being a Parent ASD, 2 generic Being a Parent, and one non-English language group e.g. Chinese, Roma or Arabic). This means around 21 EPEC groups are run per year in Sheffield. 

FIT – How Does EPEC fit with the Sheffield Parenting Hub and the Community? 

Sheffield were selected as an EPEC Hub as EPEC fitted with wider local strategic priorities for families with children under five; they had pre-existing local multiagency relationships to support Hub outreach, parent engagement and EPEC parenting course delivery for families and communities living in specific socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods. There was a clear, feasible implementation plan for the EPEC Hub, supported by necessary operational resources and support. Sheffield had experience and expertise in parenting and parenting programmes, evidence-based approaches, and peer-led and volunteer partnerships. EPEC fit with community development work, as well as parenting, a grassroots model of volunteers, by getting parents to do the recruiting.

Liz explained that EPEC complimented the other programmes delivered, and that it has become a bit easier to reach out to the different communities in Sheffield. Liz explained that EPEC has successfully crossed boundaries both culturally and generationally. The parent volunteers come from various different backgrounds (e.g. Roma, Chinese, Arabic) and include some grandparents as group leaders.  Sheffield currently have six Chinese parent group leaders (so have run the programme in Mandarin three times), a Roma dad parent group leader (so have run it in Roma Slovak), as well as in Arabic a couple of times. Liz reported that although they have used other parenting programmes in the past, this can be challenging for some communities to stick with as there are a lot of videos and a lot of written presentations. In comparison, EPEC uses a grassroots model which allows Sheffield to set the volunteer co-ordinator targets. Both Lynn and Liz feel that the key to EPECs success is parents talking to other parents, rather than professionals, making the model of delivery more accessible and sustainable which helps parents to feel supported.

Liz explained the challenges of going into communities where you do not speak the language and are not part of the community. Liz reported “When we've got a parent group leader in post he was able to say that you're not advertising it in the right way…the same with the Chinese community. They use Wechat so they've been able to promote on Wechat to their Chinese community in Sheffield at the Chinese school and places like that, whereas again we would try and do that but it just wouldn’t translate as well... if it's an actual Chinese parent that's talking then they're much more receptive really.”

SUPPORTS – What Supports did EPEC Provide? 

Both Liz and Lynn were involved in implementing EPEC in Sheffield from the beginning. Initially they were invited to London to find out more from the EPEC National Hub to meet with Dr Crispin Day (Head, Centre for Parent and Child Support) and Jo Nicoll (Lead, National Empowering Parents Empowering Communities Team). An initial cohort of staff went on the EPEC familiarisation training, which allowed the team to get a good understanding of the programme. She described the training as “…very thoughtful, very comprehensive, there's loads of support.”

Sheffield was sent clear Hub Quality Standards with milestones set to meet those. Support from the National EPEC Team involved face-to-face training, ongoing consultation, digital social communication platform, electronic access to EPEC materials and online activity monitoring, outcome and acceptability evaluation. Even now, out of contract, Jo Nicoll is available to email.

Training:  As the parenting team was well established the staff already had the skills to deliver the EPEC programme. Supervisors are well qualified, with strong educational background, and are experienced at working at a specialist level. For the initial roll out of the programme, two of the parenting specialists were selected to go on Being a Parent Training (BAP), then supervisors training. Now in 2021 there are six staff that cover EPEC in Sheffield (including male and female staff) who supervise the volunteers (rather than deliver the programme). Three parenting specialists are now also trained supervisors in the EPEC ASD programme. In 2018 Lynn Wragg helped identify an initial cohort of 14 volunteer parents who initially went on to do the Parent Group Leader training. A large mapping exercise was undertaken as Liz and her colleagues tried to match the parent group leader volunteers in pairs who would work well together, to make sure it was near to where they lived, and there was demand for the programme from parents coming along.

Lynn was there to support them on their journey and continues to provide regular support to volunteers. In addition to the supervisor providing support to group delivery during, and then reflecting after the group session, Lynn maintains contact and support by building connections between the parent group leaders through social media, phone and meetups. Lynn also helps the volunteers with job applications and writing CV's. They also have 5 laptops that volunteers can borrow, and they can provide training in technology.

After completing the BAP group, parents who are interested can continue to become parent facilitators through attending the ten day parent group leader training course. Lynn said, “Initially some of the parents … have low confidence level and they were concerned to know if they are good enough to run a programme.” But by doing the training they are quickly able to understand that their knowledge as parents is valuable, and doing the training alleviates their concerns. Lynn explained if they have additional support or learning needs such as dyslexia or social communication difficulties, they are given appropriate support.

The data from both EPEC’s measures, and since Sheffield have collected their own data, has shown EPEC has achieved positive outcomes. This has allowed an informed decision to be made to continue to use EPEC and there are plans to expand its reach by taking on the EPEC Teen programme and the EPEC Mental Health programme.

Financing: NESTA funding was initially used (for supporting parents of children under five), and the Department of Work and Pensions financed the initial delivery of the BAPT groups, but now as a department the parenting team have dedicated funding as this is their mainstream work. Although volunteers are not paid in Sheffield, they are given expenses and the volunteer coordinator organises any other additional appropriate training available (e.g. domestic abuse, safeguarding, first aid, computing and mental health) through Sheffield Council or the Zest service. Refreshments are provided each session and creche are provided if children are not in nursery or school, or extra time is covered and paid for by the council if required. The groups are community based throughout the city, so parents do not require transport costs.

Referral and recruitment: Liz explained that the referral process works quite differently to other parenting programmes, as parents are recruited from coffee mornings where parents sign up directly. Lynn clarified how she initially recruited the first parent volunteers by using pre-existing volunteers and using her own connections citywide, as well as spreading the word by getting out and meeting people by knocking on doors, leaflet drops, speaking to people in person. Lynn explained that since the initial hard push to recruit, there has been a natural and organic growth of volunteers, and it has been easier to recruit due to word of mouth. Lynn has run a parallel recruitment using her pre-existing networks and links with volunteers and other community organisations.

Liz explained that in Sheffield, they use a population approach model, they have around 45 parenting programmes that run per term (6 EPEC groups run per term). The team use social media to promote what is on offer (Facebook, Twitter and a YouTube channel), as well as a “what's on guide” is sent out to a wide distribution list including all the schools in Sheffield.

USABILITY - What was the Sheffield Parenting Hub’s experience of implementing EPEC? 

Liz reported that the programme itself is very well operationalized. Leaflets and information are available for supervisors via drop box. This means specific resources (e.g. into Mandarin, or Roma) that have been translated can be shared. They are able to use Slack, a channel-based messaging platform, to keep in touch with each other, share ideas nationally or post queries. Additionally, the National Hub are available by email or telephone to answer queries.

Liz spoke highly of how the BAP Training is received by both staff and families, she explained that “Everybody loves it”. She feels the keys to success are that parents promote the programme and have discussions in the playground or on Wechat. She explained that the most helpful areas are the focus on reflective listening and feelings, the model itself is about   community development, it’s grassroots, where parents peer deliver the programme to one another. Lynn explained that the manual is clear and comprehensive, with tasks set out on a weekly basis providing timings and a variety of activities.

Modifiable components: Liz explained how to stick to the fidelity of the programme with flexibility to also adapt to cultural needs. Whilst there is a structure to the content of the programme, it is modifiable to an extent, parents can bring up topics of conversation and give one another support and ideas.  Liz feels it differs from other programmes as it allows parents to reflect on their own experience of being parented, think about it from their perspective of being a parent and then also think about it from the child's perspective.

Fidelity: Volunteer parent group leaders deliver in pairs and are observed by the supervisors (Specialist Parenting Practitioners) in Sheffield after every session they deliver. Supervisors and volunteers work through a fidelity checklist of facilitation skills, reflections on what went well and what they could have done differently, plus any safeguarding issues are reviewed. During the PGL Training parent volunteers are expected to keep journals as reflective logs which are reviewed with supervisors.

CAPACITY – What is Sheffield and specifically the Sheffield Parenting Hub’s capacity to deliver EPEC? 

Depending on demand, up to 6 groups per term are run with support from the 6 parent supervisors in Sheffield. With a pool of 14 new parent group leader volunteers trained yearly Lynn is able to maintain a steady flow of volunteers to run groups throughout Sheffield. Lynn explained that volunteers tend to want to do volunteering for a year - 18 months, then generally move on as PGL volunteer for a variety of reasons such as giving back to their own community, as well as for their own personal development.

Staff prerequisites/experience: There are no prerequisites for parents to become Parent Group Leader volunteer other than they can commit time to the programme, do the training, provide references, undertake a Disclosure and Barring check prior to undertaking the training, and are able to run a group afterwards. Approximately 14 parent volunteers a year are trained on the BAP group leader training which is delivered in house once a year. For those parents delivering a specialist programme they will receive additional training (e.g. the Being a Parent ASD programme they get an additional 4 days training; the Being a Parent Together conflict training for couples an additional 2 days).

Time commitment: Lynn reported that the time commitment for volunteer parents is manageable and involves training, supervision and the group delivery. The Sheffield Parenting Hub organises room bookings, distributing manuals and preparing resources required for sessions. The basic course for all parents with children aged 2-12 is “Being a Parent” (BAP), with 8 weeks of 2 hour sessions, with time before to set up and preparation, then supervision after. Supervisors can also access additional support from Liz, or the National EPEC Hub as required.

Final Thoughts 

Lynn reported that the biggest challenge to the implementation of EPEC in Sheffield initially was trying to spread the word among other professionals, as well getting them on board, so they all knew what the project was. However, she reported that now most people are aware of the positive outcomes. Lynn thinks that one of the key successes was for the council to involve an organisation like Zest, as well as the “community being open minded”, for the programme being peer led, and for all the support the parent group leaders are given, has allowed the reach into different communities which previously had not accessed the type of support and services.

Lynn identified that recruiting dads has been one the biggest challenges and that Sheffield aims to engage more dads in attending parenting programmes. Lynn feels there are some key barriers to attendance including time (e.g. dads working during the day), in some communities, traditionally parenting has been considered “the mum’s role” which can be off putting for dads if it is only mums and is then considered “a mums’ group”. They have started to look at workshops for father’s rather than asking them to commit to 8 to 10 weeks. “Currently there are two dad volunteers and one grandad… so I'm hoping that once we've started running their groups that they can spread the word and get more dads engaging.

Liz also feels another barrier to recruitment can be the stigma associated with parenting in Britain. However, having other parent volunteers is “really helpful and normalising” and the key to promoting a community network is relationships. Liz explained how recruiting for the group is done by the parent group leaders going into their schools, speaking to other parents in the playground or community who they have a connection with. 

Liz was keen to explain how translatable the programme can be as it can be used in different cultures. For example, she explained that before COVID-19, Sheffield Hallam University were considering using EPEC to work with the Greek refugee camps, so it can be used in different communities. Also, having a male worker, who is Slovakian, a single dad, has allowed successful delivery of BAP to the Roma community which had not been possible by staff. The dad knows the community well, so was able to recruit and retain a group of Roma families to stick with the programme which had not been possible when run by staff. Liz felt that as he was from the same background as the families, he was delivering to they could relate to him. He was also able to translate the resources for families.

Lynn’s main advice to services considering EPEC is “Just believe in the programme, take it easy to start with … start small and once you've done your first programme, you'll just reap the benefits and it'll just spread. You just have to be as the programme says, be “good enough”, reach out to as many different communities as you can. She explained “I love it because it is parents that are delivering….you see them blossom, sharing the programme…and building communities, they are in their community, they are at the centre and they are supporting all the families within their community which shows the programme works successfully.”