Parenting Support – A New Policy
Domain in Northern Ireland and
Elsewhere
Professor Mary Daly
School of Sociology, Social Policy and
Social Work
Queen’s University Belfast
Parenting Support – What is it?
• Parenting support refers to a range of
information, support, education, training,
counselling and other measures or services that
focus on influencing how parents understand and
carry out their parenting role
• Mainly takes the form of advice and information,
one-to-one counselling and parenting
programmes
• Started to become popular in the 2000s
especially
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
Where Did it Come From (1)?
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1. Child-related research and developments
- health and welfare (child protection; child poverty)
- children’s rights
- early child care and education (performance of children,
social investment in children)
2. Family Functioning
- problem families
- social order/social control
3. Parental Well-being/Parental Employment (top-down and
bottom-up)
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
Where Did it Come From? (2)
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International Policy
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Council of Europe also important
Especially Recommendation (2006) 19 on
positive parenting which identifies the types
of action that are desirable:
• awareness raising, removal of barriers and the
provision of a range of supports
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
Where Did it Come from? (3)
• Some national governments (e.g., New Labour
in UK, Merkel in Germany) strongly in favour
• Commercial developments – the programmes
are all marketised
• 5 main programmes in the England
• Triple P, Incredible Years, Strengthening
Families, Strengthening Communities
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
An Example
• Triple P (5 levels)
• 1. a universal parenting information strategy;
• 2. brief (one or two session) primary health care intervention for mild
behavioural difficulties or a three session large group seminar series on
positive parenting;
• 3. A session of interventions for mild to moderate difficulties including
parent skills training; or a one-off brief 2 hour discussion group (multiple
topics available);
• 4. An intensive 8-10 session programme which is individual, group or self
directed (with telephone support) for more severe problems;
• 5. Intensive behavioural family intervention where parenting problems
occur in the context of other family difficulties (e.g., conflict, depression).
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
What’s New about it?
• Parenting support is not completely new – in most settings
it’s a development and extension of older ideas
• However there are (at least 2) novel phenomena involved:
• (1) the putting in place of measures oriented to influencing
how parents manage and rear their children which at its
most developed involves three moves:
• a) from a passive to an active cast
• b) towards universal provision
• c) moving beyond parents of infants/young children.
• (2) greater engagement on the part of the state with
socially desirable forms of parenting
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
England
 Trajectory is from national level down
 Under New Labour put in place the most elaborate architecture anywhere
for parenting support:
 A national network of Children’s Centres
 A national roll-out of education programmes for parents
 Parenting Commissioners in each LA
 Evidence-based guidance for LAs in commissioning
 A national programme focusing on the education/support of young
mothers
 A national academy for practitioners and a national institute for family
and parenting (FPI)
 Training programme and Council for the Development of the Childcare
Workforce
 A series of family intervention projects around parenting
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
Northern Ireland
• More demand- and voluntary sector led
• Main providers are ParentingNI and the
Lifestart Foundation
• Information, education programmes, a
Parenting Forum
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
Different Models/Emphases in
Different Countries
France
bottom up, more support than education or training, no
parenting programmes
Main form – REAAP (Parental Support and Guidance Networks)
offering peer support and educational activities to parents on
a universal basis
• Germany
• Family education/education for family life a strong root 1,000 open access information and counselling centres
• Also some parenting programmes but for parents of younger
children and those experiencing difficulties
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
Impact/Pros and Cons
• Known effects:
• Can makes parenting a less stressful and more enjoyable role;
• Can reduce the risks of emotional and physical harm to
children;
• Can improve children’s well-being and development
• However it is not known whether these effects endure and
there are risks involved (for example):
• Parental overload
• Too much intrusion in family life
• Increased anxiety for parents
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
What Works Best?
• Programmes with more than one method of delivery
• Programmes with measureable concrete objectives
• Programmes with a strong underlying theory and model of how they will
improve outcomes for children and parents
• Programmes that are aware of and seek to meet families’ other needs as
well
• Effective multi-agency working
• ‘Joined up’ services
• The blanket application of a particular type of programme can be
counterproductive
• Services that allow multiple routes in for families (i.e., have a variety of
entry or referral routes)
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social
Work, Queen's University Belfast
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Parenting Support - The Northern Ireland Assembly