Who we are

Happy boy features on Family Links' book The Teaching Puzzle front cover.

Family Links is a national charity dedicated to empowering children, parents, families, schools and workplaces to be emotionally healthy.

Our vision is a world where adults and children live flourishing lives, fulfil their potential and make a positive contribution to their community. Family Links believes that emotional health is a human right and that it is the foundation for achievement and happiness.

We deliver innovative, high quality training in the Nurturing Programme to health and social care services, third sector organisations, schools and universities.

The Nurturing Programme is the approach that underpins all our work and is designed to provide adults and children with the understanding, skills and ability to lead emotionally healthy lives, build resilience, empathy, self-esteem and support positive relationships. Find out more about the Nurturing Programme.

Our impact

In the last 20 years Family Links has:

  • Helped over 164,000 families achieve profound change – that’s 321,000 children reached by the Nurturing Programme
  • Trained over 10,000 family practitioners to use the 10-week Nurturing Programme in more than 50 Local Authorities
  • Sold over 157,000 copies of The Parenting Puzzle book – our guide for parents
  • Reached over 9,000 school staff and 198,000 children in schools

Download a copy of our 2015 Impact Report as a PDF

Download a copy of our 2016/17 Impact Report as a PDF

On average 8 out of 10 parents who take part in a Family Links course report significant improvements in their children’s behaviour and family life. Research shows improvements in parental mental health, and increased self-efficacy in emotion and affection, empathy and understanding, and discipline and boundary setting.

Family Links practitioners work in 9 out of 10 of the most deprived areas in the UK.

Find out why the Nurturing Programme works…

Awards and recognition

Children and Young People Now

Children and Young People Now finalist 2015 and Highly Commended for improving children’s life chances nationally and locally in 2013.


Two programmes awarded the CANparent quality mark 2014

Centre for Social Justice

Centre for Social Justice national award winner

Impetus PEF

Supported by Impetus PEF

Children and Young People Now Highly Commended 2013
Family Links - award from CSJ (Centre for Social Justice)
Family Links - award from CSJ (Centre for Social Justice)


Recent news

Read earlier news stories by visiting our News Archive.

Cover of the FEA report, image of group of excited young school teachers

Emotional Health, Wellbeing and Character in Schools (Jun 2017)

Family Links and the Nurturing Schools Network have contributed to a new report from the Fair Education Alliance’s (FEA) Wellbeing group, which we co-chair with Canterbury Christ Church University.

The report follows a survey of 500 school staff about social and emotional health in education, highlighting the need for action. The key findings were:

  • Insufficient time (71%) and a lack of available budget (59%) were cited as the biggest barriers to addressing Social and Emotional wellbeing in schools.
  • 94% thought it was very important to identify children who require specialist support for wellbeing or social and emotional development.
  • Having clear next steps for pupil development (83%) and being easy to use (70%) were identified as being the key priorities for social and emotional wellbeing measurements.

Bea Stevenson, co-chair of the FEA’s wellbeing group and Head of Social and Emotional Learning at the Nurturing Schools Network, commented:

We recognise the importance of ensuring that children’s emotional health not only remains high on the policy agenda but also that schools and practitioners are given the support they need to implement change. We hope that this report supports both these aims and are committed to working in cross sector partnership to embed understanding and good practice across the school system.

Visit the Fair Education Alliance’s website to find out more and read the full report

Pregnant parents feel baby kick

Parents give their babies a warm welcome (Mar 2017)

Children & Young People Now (CYP Now) has published a case study of our ‘Welcome to The World’ antenatal programme that helps parents improve attachment with their babies, enhance their coping skills and boost children’s wellbeing.

Read the case study

(Article first appeared on the CYP Now website. Link to original article )

Preview image of the Theory of Change diagram - click to view & download the full version

New report: Developing a Theory of Change for an evidence-supported design (Feb 2017)

This report from the Colebrooke Centre helps commissioners and parent group leaders and their managers understand the connections between the design of the 10-week Nurturing Programme and the expected outcomes for parents. The paper describes the links between the programme specification and the evidence base about what works in parenting support.

The Colebrooke Centre for Evidence and Implementation logo

Download the full Theory of Change paper

See the full Theory of Change diagram

Find more papers in the Why it Works section

Our team

Senior Leadership Team

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Sarah Darton MA BSc (Hons) DipHV RGN CEO

Worked in the NHS for 30 years as a health visitor, child protection nurse & health and outreach manager of a Sure Start children’s centre.

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Anne Tester BCom CA(Z) Finance Director

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1998, and was responsible for the finances of a variety of organisations before joining Family Links in 2010.

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Sally Alden Director of Fundraising & External Relations

Trained in Decorative Arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum before leaving to work for Leslie Scott Associates, now Oxford Games, to help launch Jenga, which went on to become one of the bestselling games of all time. Worked for the Family Nurturing Network as a fundraiser before joining Family Links in 2009. Twitter: @sally_alden

Family Links Team

Donna Gardner's photo

Donna Gardner Warehouse Manager and Training Supplies Coordinator

Our trustees

Our trustees

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Deborah Cowley

Former Director of Action for Prisoners’ Families. Before that she was Director of Operations at Parenting UK, an umbrella organisation for agencies and individuals working with parents. Has worked in the parenting sector since 1995.

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Vanessa Emmett

Project Director for CSCLeaders – an exciting Commonwealth-wide leadership project run by Common Purpose. Vanessa previously worked for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, as National Programme Manager for the campaign ‘Debate of the Age’ and as Global Business Development Manager at FT Knowledge, and has extensive overseas experience.

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Sarah Hargreaves Chair

Sarah has many years’ experience in the media and communications industry, as a television executive, media consultant and executive coach. In that time she worked as a senior leader and manager at the BBC, for commercial television, and also founded and ran her own successful independent production company, winning many broadcast awards along the way. She now works with senior executives across a broad range of industries in both the public and private sectors. Sarah became involved with the charity sector and with Family Links via her work with the Impetus Trust and joined the board in 2014, becoming Chair in June 2015.

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Shaila Khan Leekha

Shaila brings almost 20 years of experience in global project finance and international development. Her most recent role was at the UK's Department for International Development as Director of International Finance where she led the UK's funding and policy decisions for multilateral and private sector spending. She previously worked for GE Capital investing in European energy projects and, prior to that, spent many years at the World Bank's International Finance Corporation. Shaila is married with three young children.

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Geoff McDonald

Geoff’s background in teaching, HR, marketing, communications and sustainability is considerable. During his 25 years with Unilever his experience has been truly global. His HR experience has spanned leadership and talent development, organization change, capability development, with particular reference to marketing, and business transformation with purpose at its core. Under his leadership he developed Unilever’s global talent and leadership centre of expertise. Geoff is also a very active campaigner for breaking the stigma associated with Mental Health in the Corporate world. Geoff is married with two girls and loves the outdoors, he is a passionate cyclist and swimmer.

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Rosalind Portman MBACP

One of the three co-founders of Family Links and actively involved in PR and fundraising. Rosalind’s background is in stress-management and counselling. Winner of the 2004 Beacon Award for New Initiatives.



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Alexander & Hannah Armstrong

Alexander is originally from Rothbury, Northumberland. He attended Cambridge University where he joined the Footlights and went on to form a comedy double act with Ben Miller. In addition to The Armstrong & Miller Show, Alexander is a regular host on Have I Got News For You and also presents Pointless on BBC1. Since 2004 he has been married to Hannah who is full-time mother to their four boys.

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Dr Stephen J Bavolek

Dr Bavolek is a recognised leader in the treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect and of parenting education and has been promoting non-violent parenting practices since 1983. He is the creator of the Nurturing Parenting Program upon which the Family Links Nurturing Programme is based.

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Countess of Inchcape

Director of the Glenapp Estate Company and a Trustee of the Inchcape Foundation. She teaches a deep relaxation technique called Help Yourself which is a synthesis of other techniques she has learnt. A mother and grandmother and involved in the activities of Family Links since its inception.

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Annette Mountford MBE

Annette introduced the Nurturing Programme to the UK in 1992 and was Chief Executive until March 2015. In 1997 she founded Family Links in order to reach children in schools as well as parents in the community. Her experiences in health visiting, education and parenthood were her core assets.

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Lord Northbourne

Deputy chair of Toynbee Hall and chair of the Parenting Support Forum. Since 1980 he has been sitting in the House of Lords as an independent, speaking and working on issues and problems of children and their families.

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Richard Pring PhL, BA, PhD

Retired after 14 years as Director of the Department of Educational Studies at Oxford University. He has since been Lead Director of the Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training and continues to work with his Aga Khan University in Karachi. He is also President of Socialist Education Association and National Association of Pastoral Care, and a member of the executive committee at Philosophy of Education Society of GB.

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Philip Pullman CBE

Best known as a writer whose books appeal to both adults and children. He spent many years as a middle-school teacher, writing plays for school performances and inspiring pupils to be creative themselves. He is a patron and active supporter of the Pegasus Youth Theatre in Oxford, The Story Museum in Oxford and the pressure group Save Kids TV. (Photo by Chris Boland / www.chrisboland.com)



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Laura Barbour

Laura was the first Trust Administrator at the Sutton Trust; joining in 1997 and helping Sir Peter Lampl to establish the Trust which aims to promote social mobility equality of opportunity through education. Between 97 and 2015 she combined raising a family with a range of roles at the Trust, most recently taking the lead in Early years. Laura remains involved as a consultant for the Sutton Trust/Esmee Fairbairn Parental Engagement fund. Prior to joining the Sutton Trust she was part of the management team at the national youth work charity “UK Youth” and started her career in fundraising for Cancer Research UK and the Mental Health foundation

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John Coleman

Dr John Coleman is a clinical and developmental psychologist. He was for many years the Director of the Trust for the Study of Adolescence (TSA), and he has been a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Education at Oxford University (2006-2015). He is the author of many books, including “The nature of adolescence: 4th Edition” (Routledge, 2011) and “Why won’t my teenager talk to me?” (Routledge, 2014). He has served as a Policy Advisor in the Department of Health, and is currently Chair of the Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH). He is also a Trustee of Family Lives, and is a strong believer in parent education and support. It is for this reason he is pleased to act as an advisor to Family Links.

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Nigel Hamway

Nigel Hamway was born in 1956 and educated at Cambridge University (Natural Sciences and Physical Anthropology). He qualified as a Chartered Accountant and is currently Director of Charterhouse Development Capital, Chairman of TTP Ventures, Chairman of Quickheart, Director of Conygar Investment Company PLC, President of Kontron Medical SAS (France), Trustee of Oxfordshire Community Foundation, former Chair/Trustee of Family Links and Honorary Treasurer of The Society of Wood Engravers. Nigel is married with four children, and lives in Oxford.

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Christine Matthews

Christine Matthews is Service Development Lead at Family Nurse Partnership National Unit. She is a former commissioner and programme manager of NHS Public Health Services for 0 – 5 year-olds across the Thames Valley area. Prior to this she was Children’s and Maternity services Commissioner for Buckinghamshire Primary Care Trust, which involved commissioning a broad portfolio of services, acute and community. Christine trained as a registered nurse in South Africa before emigrating to the UK and continuing her career in a range of nursing disciplines, eventually specialising in Health Visiting.

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Francis Murphy

Francis is a primary school headteacher in Pegasus School, Oxford, part of the Blackbird Academy Trust Schools, sponsored by Family Links. He is Chair of the Trust’s Headteachers’ group and he is also Chair of South Oxford City School Partnership. Before beginning his teacher training, Francis volunteered in Scotswood, Newcastle on a housing estate supporting the local community. He studied Art and Teaching Studies at Bishop Grosseteste University College, training in schools in Scunthrope, Doncaster and Nottinghamshire. His first teaching post was in Manchester before coming to Oxford. He has a passion for developing emotional health in schools and developing staff well-being. Francis has four children who keep his parenting toolkit open at all times!