When Diana Camilleri’s 12-year-old son, Tony, began to
misbehave and was excluded from school, she felt there was nowhere
Camilleri, a single mother of three from east London, began to
blame herself for her son’s behaviour and was afraid that he
might be taken away from her if she could not cope.
But then she was referred to Newham Parenting Support Programme,
and found more than just a listening ear.
“I had got to the stage where I didn’t know what to do,
and discovered I was not alone,” she says.
Camilleri is one of hundreds of parents whose children have been or
are at risk of offending who find support in the project, which won
a Community Care Award 2004 in the young offenders
Newham Parenting Support Programme began as a service run by one
worker, Stephen Barnabis, in a police station five years ago. It is
now based in Stratford, east London, and employs seven full-time
Now parenting co-ordinator at the project, Barnabis was frustrated
by the lack of support for parents of young offenders. “There
was nothing except limited help from social services, and many
parents said they had nowhere to go,” he says.
The programme has helped more than 500 parents and carers and now
has 190 cases on its books.
As part of their work, staff help people on parenting orders comply
with their conditions, as breaches can lead to
“Parents can be hostile to parenting orders,” Barnabis
says. “We have to show the benefits for them, but sometimes a
minimum three-month order is too short for families to resolve
their problems, so we continue support when the order is over. They
might need phone calls to remind them of appointments, or need
accompanying to meetings as they don’t want their friends to
know because of the stigma.”
Other services on offer include therapy, drop-in sessions and
workshops using interactive CD-Roms about parenting. The project
plans to spend the £5,000 it received as part of the award on
new laptops so that parents and carers can access information
People are referred to the programme from outside agencies,
including youth offending teams, but there has been an increase in
the number of self-referrals – a sign of its unique
“Word of mouth is becoming our best referral system, as one
parent will tell another,” Barnabis says.
Word of mouth has also put the project on the map in a wider sense,
as visitors have come from as far away as Australia to see what
makes it tick. The project is also being considered as a national
model for similar services in this country.
Barnabis puts the success of the project down to a realistic ethos:
“We believe that parenting is the hardest job in the world.
There is no one rule book that has all the answers – what
will work for one family will be different for
Project worker Sharon Cover says: “One of the key things we
aim to provide is an opportunity for people to offload without
being judged. Mothers will say ‘my son went to court but I
didn’t understand what was happening’. We help to break
down the jargon and give space for parents and carers to feel
comfortable, and take time to build consistent relationships so
families will open up.”
Camilleri, who has been on a summer break with the project, says
her son was “as good as gold” during the trip.
“It was also great for me to meet other parents in the same
situation and build my confidence.”
The project is also helping Camilleri, who is unemployed, to look
for work and to get her son back into school.
She says: “Since I started working with the project, my
situation has improved a lot, and I am more able to manage. I
don’t know what I would have done if they had not been
The young offenders’ cateogry was sponsored by Green