Research into practice

This research was undertaken with Parentline Plus and the Young Parents’ Project (YPP) which is a supported housing project for young mothers.1 It revealed issues concerning a group of 15 of the project’s parents identified as having problems with parenting. These parents were all teenagers with infants under 18 months of age.

The teenagers’ concerns were compared with those of a community sample involving more than 400 parents.

The study, from a parent’s perspective, identified what parents might expect from a confidential helpline and highlighted areas of parental concern in the task of child-rearing.

Although many issues concerned parents, those particularly cited were behaviour management, school bullying, and drug and alcohol problems. Parents were seeking information and advice rather than support.

The main findings included:

  • Only one of the YPP parents had heard of Parentline Plus. In the community sample 43 per cent had heard of Parentline Plus. Since there is a Parentline Plus poster in the YPP project office it is clear that this had simply not registered.
  • In the YPP sample issues relating to infant care (63 per cent) and child abuse (63 per cent) come into the top four concerns along with family relationships (50 per cent) and alcohol and drug misuse (38 per cent). The four issues, which most concerned parents in our community sample were behaviour management (72 per cent), alcohol and drug misuse (56 per cent), family relationships (42 per cent) and school bullying (42 per cent). These differences are important as in a large sample the issues for a specific group can be lost. The concerns about infant care probably relate to their experience as first-time mothers. The concerns expressed over child abuse in a group identified as vulnerable and in need of support requires further research to explore whether they are concerned that they or other persons may harm their child.
  • The YPP parents have little support in the community or from their families. The project is their main source of support both when they are resident at the project and when they have left to live independently.
  • Some 77 per cent of YPP parents would be looking for information if they contacted Parentline Plus, compared with 51 per cent from the community sample. Similarly, 66 per cent of YPP parents would look for advice and support while this was lower for other parents (advice 50 per cent, and support 37 per cent).

The lessons for practitioners include the strong possibility that parents in need of a service could well be the least likely to know of its existence.

YPP parents identified the project and their health visitors as the places where they would seek help. They expressed extreme reluctance to approach social services apart from for financial help. For this group of young parents with children under school age their health providers are seen as an acceptable place to seek help. This means that the health visitor or the GP is a gateway to other services including social services.

The implications for interdisciplinary working are clear since social services are rejected because of the user’s perception that they are only interested in taking away your child, and not because of what social workers can offer.

1 J Akister and K Johnson, “Parenting: Issues which may be addressed through a confidential helpline,” Health & Social Care, 10 (2), 2002

Jane Akister is senior lecturer at Anglia Polytechnic University.

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