Parenting skills in the EastEnders OmniBus?

December 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

By Sophie Byrne

It is Parenting UK’s 15th Anniversary this year and to celebrate they hosted a Parenting Question Time yesterday at the Institute for Contemporary Arts. Claire, Lesley Anne and I eagerly attended because of our work with early years services which Claire co-leads, and Lesley Anne and I have both worked on as part of our internships.

Our Transforming Early Years programme is working with six local providers of early years children’s services, front-line staff and communities to transform locality-based services so that they both radically improve outcomes for young families; and demonstrate a 30+% reduction in costs within three years.

The event was energetically chaired by Matthew Taylor from the RSA and the panellists were — Siobhan Freegard, Netmums; George Hosking, Wave Trust; Dame Gillian Pugh, Children and Families Expert; Prof Stephen Scott, National Academy for Parenting Research; and, Prof Sarah Stewart-Brown, Warwick University.

Three points and ideas really struck me and have been playing on my mind since.  First, despite financial pressures and the cuts we have already seen to child benefit, both the panel and audience firmly held that parenting support and early intervention must remain a universal service. Gillian Pugh made the critical point that we must not lose sight of the fact that in order to target ‘hard-to-reach’ families with acute support, you need to maintain universality, so that services do not become stigmatised. This was one of the founding principles of Sure Start and has positively shaped the service.  

There were, inevitably, questions about the impact of government policy and local authorities’ new focus on safeguarding and attainment on parenting and early year’s intervention. The panel’s responses were surprisingly pessimistic on this point, especially considering that parenting is being recognised as a really important issue in a wide range of policy agendas. For example, Sarah Stewart-Brown talked about the acknowledgment of parenting in the public health budget, which will allow local authorities to allocate funding to relevant services. Another example is parenting being put centre stage in Frank Field’s poverty report. This acknowledgment is a really important and positive step, and I think a reason for optimism.

Finally, Matthew Taylor asked the panel to pitch for a hypothetical £100 million to invest in a service, idea or programme. George Hosking, Gillian Pugh and Sarah Stewart-Brown all chose to focus their pitches on early attachments between children and their primary carers and infant mental health.  Siobhan Freegard decided to give the money to Kids Company, who is Netmums’ Christmas Appeal Charity.  But the idea that I thought the best, and opened up an absolutely key debate that is to a great extent being overlooked, came from Stephen Scott.  Stephen wanted to use all of the money to ‘wine and dine’ the producers of television shows such as EastEnders, Corrie and Hollyoaks who would be persuaded to create and run realistic storylines that promote the importance of parenting.

Although a fanciful strategy, we need a fundamental shift away from the way we think about parenting as a private occupation, that people should be allowed to get on with on their own.  Parenting needs to be seen as something everyone can learn about, be involved with and indeed should be helped with. Parenting classes and early years intervention should not be seen as something that is for parents that cannot cope or are in crisis. 

We need to look to other countries, such as Sweden and New Zealand, where parenting classes and support are seen as something everyone is involved in. In New Zealand they have a government funded initiative ‘Strategies with Kids, Information for Parents’ and in Sweden two thirds of parents will attend an average of five parenting courses. This is something that we need to aspire.

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Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services, Innovation Policy.

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