‘Who you gonna call?’

Parents have been able to obtain support and advice from
Parentline Plus’s helpline for several years. But now the Referral
Telephone Support (RTS) service provides longer-term, one-to-one
support for parents in a crisis who do not use our existing
helpline and parenting courses.

Professionals refer parents who are matched with a telephone
support worker (TSW). The TSW telephones them at a pre-arranged
time to introduce themselves, explain the process and agree a
further six to 12 calls (usually eight). The TSW will then
regularly phone the parent at the agreed time, usually

During these sessions, the TSW and the parent focus on three areas:
relationships with the child or children and family; looking after
self and self-esteem; and managing and using other agencies, such
as schools. The service aims to work by helping parents to set
small goals each week and and build on these week by week.

Many of the parents referred for RTS have been asking social
services for help for some time, but do not fit their eligibility
criteria (although social services are usually concerned about
them). Often, things may have become so bad that the parents do not
know which way to turn.

RTS helps social services to refer parents they are worried about
to us and saves social work time. It can also be used as part of a
Parenting Order by a Youth Offending Team. It complements other
services and provides a one-to-one support for parents who may be
isolated or lacking confidence and do not feel able to attend a
parenting course.

Parents value the anonymity of the telephone, the fact that they
can take the call wherever they like on either a mobile phone or
landline. Our other services also support RTS, so that parents who
want help and support between calls can phone the helpline. Some
parents have gone on to parenting courses after RTS and most say
they now feel able to use the helpline when they need it.

Most of the work we have done has helped parents in setting
boundaries with their children and in developing their self-esteem.
Within a relatively short space of time, parents are reporting
significant changes. These include feeling better about themselves
and an ability to set boundaries and relate to their children

Parents were involved from the start of the pilot and formed part
of a steering group. It was the parents who decided to have paid
professionals, not volunteers, staffing it, and they also
contributed to discussions on how it would work. Many parents were
enthusiastic and particularly liked the idea of the anonymity of
the phone. Comments included: “We wouldn’t have to go out to see
somebody in their office, which makes us nervous, and we wouldn’t
have to have them come to our house and have to tidy up!”

RTS was initially piloted with Essex social services and the Wirral
youth offending team in 2000-1. We have been expanding the service
and are making it more widely available. We would like to see it
available to parents via commissioners nationally. One of the great
advantages of the service is that it can be provided anywhere in
the country from anywhere in the country.

Regional managers help to negotiate and manage commissions in their
areas. We also have a pool of 14 telephone support workers paid on
sessional basis for the work they do. Of course, others are
indirectly involved. Parents need to be referred by an agency which
is commissioning the service, usually social services, a YOT, Sure
Start or On Track. They cannot refer themselves and they cannot be
referred from the Parentline Plus helpline.

The telephone support workers already have the skills needed for
the work. We train them on the method and application of their
existing skills to our ways of working and our policies,
particularly on child protection.

Social workers and members of the YOT welcome this method of
intervention as a valuable service for parents and carers. Most of
the families referred by Essex had been in regular contact with the
duty desk and the emergency duty service. Since telephone support
started, contact with duty services has decreased, indicating both
satisfaction on behalf of the parents and a saving of staff

As confidence in the value of the service grew, social workers
referred families with more complex needs, such as children at

This is an effective method of intervention, which fits with
government and agency priorities. Parents find it useful and
Parentline Plus has the expertise, structures and systems to
provide the service. There are already noticeably improved outcomes
for children and an improvement in parenting skills for parents
with difficult and complex needs. The quotes (see right) give an
insight into how parents and professionals feel about the service
and the support it provides.

Gill Loughran is manager, Referral Telephone



 Service views

 “The support worker suggested a couple of things to try with my
granddaughter and they worked. I can let her know when enough is
enough, but I can also understand her life better. Teenagers are
not always as you would like them to be – I can see it in a wider

Grandmother talking about her 14-year-old

“I got a lot of encouragement and confidence to step back and see
the situation – no opinions, no advice but encouragement. I could
say anything, get angry and cry. What helped most was talking to
somebody without a face. I could say anything as I would probably
never see them.”

Mother of 12-year-old daughter

“There has been a big improvement with the children. I call it
‘welcome to the new mum’. It helped me to put boundaries down.
Before I let them walk over me. Before, it was anything for a quiet
life. Now what mum says they do. I am beginning to say no to other
people, for example to friends and relatives wanting to borrow
money. I feel as though I have gained self- respect.”

Mother of four children, boys aged 10 and four and girls
aged nine and three

“I was surprised at how good it could be. I got a whole lot off my
chest. With my son who was in trouble, we laugh and we joke. We
didn’t before. I have more time for him. We are more like a family.
We talk to each other more and he does things for me. I am not so
stressed out, more relaxed. It is a pity I didn’t have the help

“My son has special needs and Anna [the telephone support worker]
gave me tips which were really helpful – like ignore him and not
giving attention for bad behaviour, and listening to him more,
which meant that he behaved better. It helped so much.

“I felt as though I had known Anna all my life after the first two
calls. I could tell her anything. It felt easier because it was on
the phone – I couldn’t check to see if she was judging me. I told
her things I had told nobody else.”

Mother of four children, boys aged 16, 12 and nine and a
girl aged four

“Telephone support provides a new approach and a positive
alternative by supporting families who may have felt isolated
because of the difficulties arising from stressful situations. The
development of this project has not only been both fulfilling and
rewarding because of the benefits to children and families, but
also it is an exciting prospect because of its scope as an
alternative method of intervention.”

Team leader, child assessment and family support

“It has worked well for the families we have referred. They like it
because it is there for them in their own homes, a contact and a
listening ear. It is anonymous which means that worker and parent
are less likely to make judgements about each other. It works at
helping families involved in the youth justice system manage the
crisis in the family and move on”

Senior health practitioner, youth offending

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