Family Action has been providing services to disadvantaged and socially isolated families since its founding in 1869. It works with over 45,000 children and families a year by providing practical, emotional and financial support through over 140 services based in communities across England.

One of the services the charity offers is support for women at risk of developing perinatal mental illness. They work with families from before the baby is born to at least one year after.

Perinatal depression is an important issue for society. The research carried out through Pro Bono Economics (PBE) was able to estimate that the cost to society in England and Wales is around £630m per year.

Family Action approached PBE because they wanted to be able to demonstrate the benefits of its Perinatal Support Service compared to its costs. PBE put together a team of economists from the Department of Communities and Local Government.

Andrea Lee, now at the Department of Health, was one of those economists:

“Family Action really wanted to know if they could put a value on the services they offered to women at risk of perinatal depression. The challenge was that we quickly realised that there was very little research that we could draw on. We were able to use our contacts across Government, the Department of Health and others to try out different ideas and come up with a solution.”

For Andrea and the rest of the team, it wasn’t just the challenge of working out the monetary value of Family Action’s services that appealed:

“Volunteering with Family Action was enjoyable because it was so different to working at my desk in Whitehall. At work I’m often dealing with very big numbers and billions of pounds, so understanding how a small charity operates and hearing the stories about the women they helped was very different and a real eye opener. I think it’s fair to say that for all the team working on this project the experience has renewed our passion and interest in economics. I got to roll up my sleeves and get to work on the data, which as a manager I don’t always have the time to do.”

Although there was very little available evidence about the short and long-term benefits of perinatal care, the team was finally able to show that the services could deliver a financial benefit of around £2,430 for each woman receiving support. This rose to £4,383 when the team took into account wellbeing.

Andrea continues:

“Family Action know their services work because they see the change in the women they help but we needed to quantify and put a ‘value’ on the impact that Family Action makes. For example, the value of reduced levels of anxiety and increased well-being. Being able to put the improvement in well-being in monetary terms was a real break through and very exciting.”

The team also found that the benefits could be considerably more in the longer term if the beneficial effects on children are taken into account. The charity now use the research on their website and to show the value of their services to supporters and funders.

6th October 2015