It may be the biggest independent provider of parent support in England but the profile of Parentline Plus belies its lofty status. Amy Taylor speaks to its new head to hear how he plans to address this.
New Parentline Plus chief executive Jeremy Todd wants to make the charity a household name as well known as ChildLine.
Like the children’s charity, Parentline Plus also has a free 24-hour helpline which takes more than 113,000 calls a year. It also runs five websites, including a discussion forum for parents, a dedicated website for professionals and a social networking site for parents of teenagers, and provides support via text messaging.
Todd, who was appointed in January, was previously chief executive of Haven House Children’s Hospice in Essex and says the role showed him the importance of providing easily accessible services.
“My experience of the hospice was that families who have an ill child don’t have access to travel so the idea of parents getting support from their own home through email, online or on the phone is great,” he says.
Todd, a trained counsellor, has worked in the voluntary sector in London for 20 years. His roles have included working around addiction and dependency in the mother and baby unit at Holloway women’s prison in North London for five years and at the special care baby unit at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel in East London, providing support with bereavement and loss.
He says he was keen to work for Parentline Plus due to the important role home life plays in children’s wellbeing. “You are always conscious that the child you are working with goes home somewhere and that [their home life] is a much bigger thing than what you are dealing with,” he says.
Todd says traditionally parents have come to the charity of their own volition, a characteristic he is keen not to lose. “We don’t want to move away from the fact that we are essentially built on a self referral platform. We think parents are the best judges of their own needs and it’s about presenting as many points of access to them as possible,” he says.
Referrals from professionals have recently increased due to the charity’s involvement in a three year pilot project with the Department for Children, Schools and Families to provide extended telephone support to parents who are struggling.
The support consists of up to six 45-minute sessions of intensive telephone support provided by specially trained staff. Parents are referred to the service by practitioners in five local authorities and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service alongside Parentline Plus call handlers.
Todd says the pilot is going well, with professionals referring appropriate cases. Alongside the pilot funding the charity has long been in receipt of money from central government for its universal services and councils provide funding for its local work.
The charity aims to provide parents with a place where they can discuss issues without the fear of being judged. It sees itself as supporting parents rather than carrying out social work style functions.
“We work with social services departments but we also quite strongly think that parents are the best judge of their own experiences and if there are other concerns we see our role as being to support parents to decide what to do,” he says.
Alongside raising the charity’s profile Todd’s other priorities include having conversations with ministers about parenting policy and doing some work with fathers – the charity has a report on dads coming out at Easter.
Todd says that parenting has taken a back seat compared to children in terms of service provision and while it is correct for children to come first parents must not be forgotten.
“The responsibility of raising children is huge and it doesn’t have the same priority in people’s consciousness. We should applaud parents for doing a difficult job.”