Co-production and One Parent Families Scotland

logo.pngCo-production is more than just a buzzword to One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS). We believe that when services and policy priorities are genuinely co-produced they work better because they make the most of the shared expertise of the practitioners who work for us and the parents who are ‘experts through experience’.

Why have OPFS used a co-production model ?

We recognise that services that are co-produced have greater buy-in from the families using them – services more closely matched to what single parent families want (as opposed to what practitioners assume they need) will achieve more. It also gives legitimacy to our services – single parents feel more comfortable with a service designed by single parents who have faced the same situations.

Through this approach OPFS is trusted by single parents and recognised by policy makers as the organisation in Scotland that gives single parents a voice. What makes co-production truly inspiring is the effect it has on everyone involved. The process of taking part in co-production has built confidence and has inspired single parents to achieve what they want to be and take control back over their lives. Staff have told us that they feel more motivated and positive and single parents who access our services feel valued and useful and this has empowered them to live fuller and happier lives.

Participation in our services is about respecting each other and respecting the knowledge that both sides contribute. It is about trust and working together to improve outcomes for single parent families. Co -producing the OPFS service has been a long journey and not something that has happened over night. 

Strength Based Service

shaking_hands.pngA starting point for OPFS was to focus on the strengths of single parents using our services.  Previously we routinely carried out assessments that identified all the challenges in a person’s life: domestic abuse; mental health issues; poverty; homelessness; substance use and other barriers they faced. We didn’t often ask people what they enjoy or what they are good at. Although it may be unintentional, this means that when they come to services, people are often framed as “vulnerable , homeless , suffering from mental health problems” – a deficit approach. We have moved to focus on the life experiences and contributions single parents make to family life, their community and in the workplace.  Our ethos is to promote this positively throughout OPFS.

Examples of Co-production in our service include:

“Growing Our own”

This involves employing  staff with lived experience who are an invaluable resource in any organisation. We believe that single parents, the majority of whom are women,  fully participating in One Parent Families Scotland services isn’t just important – it is critical – in shaping services and ensuring that our organisation meets their needs.

We as practitioners can make decisions based upon what we believe to be the problems and issues facing single parents, however, a single parent understands these problems in a far more personal way – they live with the problems every day and employing them makes perfect sense and adds balance to our organisation.

Single parents are twice as likely to feel stigmatised, isolated and live in poverty and this puts some parents at greater risk of developing mental health problems and harder for them to move along their pathway to employment. We know by employing single parents they can act as peer mentors and support other parents who face many of the challenges they too have faced and still experience .

OPFS Employability Services

copro_man.jpgSingle parents have been involved in the design and delivery of our programmes at every stage. We believe this is a key factor in our impact on parents’ lives, not just by engaging single parents to take part in activities themselves, but also empowering parents and minimising the barriers within lone parent’s ‘employability’ journey.  Some examples of co-production in this service include:

  • Single parents highlighting the barriers to being able to fully engage in employability services. Travel, childcare, refreshments etc
  • Single parents co- facilitating the employability sessions and having facilitators who have experience of being single parents.
  • Involving single parents at all stages of programme activities and content and help design the programme workbook that reflects on their experiences.
  • Single parents volunteering as peer support leaders in community hubs , event organisers and give talks and presentations to promote the project.
  • Working to co-produce a Single Parent Guide on moving into employment that uses their stories and experiences  that helps meet the challenges of single parenthood.
  • Single parents’ involvement in Glasgow Council’s Quality Standards for Employability

Single Parent Advisory Groups

This group involved 12 single parent who through their experience and participation influenced some of the following areas of work:

Single Parents Manifesto

A group of single parents met over a 12-month period to write and publish  “ Single Parents Voices in Scotland- A  Manifesto for Change”. This was launched at the Scottish Parliament


An OPFS survey of single parents in Scotland revealed that three in four (74%) single mothers have experienced negative attitudes or stigma in the last two years. In response we worked with single mothers  to initiate the #ProudSingleParents  campaign.

Universal Credit – working with Scot Gov to highlight the need for Split Payments of UC to prevent financial coercive control.

Cost School Day / School Clothing Grants

Single Parents whose children attended two primary schools in Castlemilk were trained in participatory budgeting and supported by OPFS  staff to consult other parents with children in the schools to generate proposed solutions to issues raised by Cost of the School Day research. The parents took forward participatory budgeting with a budget of £10,000 per school to trial actions to lessen the impact of poverty on the school day.

partnership_thumb.pngSingle parents’ participation in OPFS school clothing grant campaign resulted in convincing the Cabinet Secretary John Swinney MSP to work with COSLA to have a minimum £100 grant. Parents also highlighted the disparity in Glasgow that parents whose secondary age children received the EMA couldn’t continue to claim the school clothing grant . After lobbying  by OPFS Glasgow City Council  have now changed this

Devolved Benefits

OPFS supported and enabled single parents to work with Scotgov officials to co-produce the design of the Best Start Grant and  ensured the application process was accessible. We will continue to develop this model as the newly devolved social security benefits are rolled out.

Mental health and Wellbeing Service 

Single Parents have told us support around their mental health and wellbeing is a key area where more provision is needed. Our consultations with parents and research by Caledonian University shows welfare reform and austerity as well as isolation and loneliness are taking their toll on single parent’s mental wellbeing and leaving many suffering the effects of anxiety, stress and even depression. In response  OPFS  is developing a new service and will implement its models of co -production within this area while working with partners in the health and social care fields to develop best practice.

Ensuring that single parents are fully involved in OPFS services from conception to evaluation means our contribution  remain engaging and dynamic. It promotes innovation and creativity.  Single parents are experts through their own experience and know what the challenges are for other parents in similar circumstances   Involvement in our services is empowering and has built confidence and self-esteem. Many single parents have gone on to achieve their own personal goals of moving into work, volunteering , improving their mental and physical health, getting involved in their community -  to name but a few !

Co-production has enabled OPFS to raise and challenge structural barriers and injustices with policy makers and politicians at every level. We can do this in the strong belief that through co-production we give single parents a voice.