Go to main content

Multi-Family Group Therapy in Primary Schools: Effectiveness, Processes and Challenges

31 January 2020

Author: Penny Whittles (UCL Institute of Education)

Background: There is a growing recognition of need for adequate mental health provision for children and young people (CYP) in the UK and an acknowledgement that schools play a large part in providing early intervention. It is important that interventions that are to be used with CYP have an evidence base that can be applied to the UK school context. Much of the literature on the effectiveness of multi-family group therapy (MFGT) to date looks at its use in a clinical setting rather than in a school setting. Furthermore, much of the previous research has used quantitative self-report measures which give little insight into the experiences of group members and the processes involved in change.

Aims: To evaluate the use of MFGT within a primary school context, to gather the views of the children, parents, school-based partners (SBP) and educational psychologists (EP) who have experienced the intervention and to investigate processes of change.

Method: MFGT was run within four schools in an inner-London borough. 30 children and 29 parents were involved in the intervention. Target monitoring and evaluation (TME) data was collected for all 30 children. Pre- and post-intervention strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) data was collected from two schools. Focus groups and interviews were conducted with a subsample of children, parents, EPs and SBPs.

Results: On average, children made nearly three points of progress towards their targets, based on TME data. Progress towards targets was also reported across all participant groups in the focus groups and interviews. Pre- and post-intervention SDQ data provided mixed results, with some schools reporting more positive outcomes than others. From the qualitative data, six themes relating to processes of change emerged: collaborative target setting; motivation; parental engagement; facilitators; content of sessions; and shared learning. Poor parental attendance and systematic issues, such as the amount of time allocated to the SBP, were reported to be barriers to the success of the intervention.

Conclusion: Results indicate that MFGT can support children make progress towards targets in a school context.


Top of page