Parenting is firmly on the political agenda. The UK Government’s confirmation of the Family Hub rollout has been followed by Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed’s suggestion that parents of children who have committed multiple crimes will be required to take a parenting course.
Reed is right to identify the important role that parenting programmes can play in managing behaviour, but this policy risks stigmatising parenting help at a crucial moment. Accessing local parenting support needs to be presented as a resource available to all parents, rather than a measure reserved for parents of young offenders.
Triple P’s own polling shows that 75% of parents feel there is a stigma attached to asking for help. That stigma can be broken down, but to do so we need to alter perceptions of parenting programmes to take away the fear we know exists around them.
Australia’s Federal government has provided a blueprint the UK could follow. In late 2022, Australia announced $40m in national funding and made Triple P online parenting programmes available to all parents and carers of children under twelve – an incredible offer. The programmes are available through smart phones, tablets and laptops – easy enough for busy parents and carers who can access them at their own pace and in their own time.
Additional work is done at a local level to destigmatise programmes – with councils promoting online courses through their newsletters and engagement with the community. State governments including Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia fund both online courses and the training of practitioners to deliver a mix of universal and targeted courses. More than 72,000 Australian parents and carers have signed up since the national program launched in July last year, with uptake increasing month-on-month as awareness grows and stigma decreases.
In scale, Australia is the gold standard for family support, but the effective use of proven parenting programmes is also being replicated in some local authorities in the UK. Sheffield and the London boroughs of Hillingdon and Brent are examples that have found a combination of targeted and universal parenting programmes, delivered by parenting course provider Brilliant Parents, to be really effective.
Hillingdon council works to deliver free programmes to all parents, and reinforce positive parenting techniques as early as possible, as well as delivering programmes to families on the edge of care.
From our work with Maeve Darroux, founder of Brilliant Parents, we know that parents are reporting an increase in children’s levels of anxiety following the pandemic, further exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis. Hillingdon families come to Brilliant Parents for help with mental health problems as well as more common parenting issues such as bedtime routines. Having this local support, where parents can choose what level of support is suitable for their family, can help prevent and solve parenting challenges.
Hillingdon is a particularly diverse area. More than half of the population are from a black or minority ethnic background, and a wide range of languages are spoken. We have heard stories of parents in Hillingdon moving to the UK and struggling with their understanding of the language or the culture. Feeling comfortable enough to reach out to Local Authority Family Services has been a game changer for those parents, who have accessed courses in their own language and taken a crucial step in adapting to the local area. This is where local support has the potential to be so powerful. The successes Hillingdon and Brent are enjoying are predicated on advertising family support to all parents, not only those perceived to be in crisis.
This is a start, but the next step is to scale what help is available to ensure that programmes reach parents in every local authority.
Family support can be a positive and preventative measure. By reducing stigma and making parenting support available from pregnancy to the end of secondary schools, we can set families up for success from before a child is born and throughout their formative years.