In session

Information sessions are being piloted at schools in an effort
to help parents resolve common problems with children at key ages.
Anne Page reports.

Parents are being offered information sessions at their
children’s schools to help them manage crucial stages in
their children’s development in a national pilot scheme.

Many families go through a rapid adjustment phase as each child
starts school at the age of five, moves to junior school aged
eleven and becomes a fully-fledged teenager at 14. There are few
opportunities to exchange information and share experiences between
parents, especially for families with older children and
adolescents. Yet this kind of contact between parents can often be
the most reassuring at a time when families may be uncertain about
what to expect.

The Parent Information Point sessions – under way in Kirklees,
Stockport and Tower Hamlets – will be evaluated to assess their
potential for reaching parents at key stages of children’s
development in this joint project co-ordinated by The National
Family and Parenting Institute and The Gulbenkian Foundation.

According to Mary MacLeod, chief executive of the National
Family and Parenting Institute: “Parents are often well-provided
with information in the first few years of their children’s
life but when their child is experiencing stressful changes and
transitions the information seems to dry up. It is vital that
policy-makers understand that it is not enough just to focus on
families in need of help, but that it makes economic and human
sense to help all families to access support so that problems may
be prevented from arising in the first place.”

The parent information sessions will be offered as part of an
open day or open evening event when parents will have the
opportunity to meet staff from local agencies, voluntary
organisations and key services (for example, Home-Start, local
faith groups, Connexions) on a one-to-one basis. The core of the
session will be the presentation of key tips for parents of five,
11 and 14-year-olds which have been compiled by John Coleman of The
Trust for the Study of Adolescence and by The Child Psychotherapy
Trust, plus signposts to sources of information, advice and
support. By bringing together expertise and input from key
practitioners working in the field, the materials used in the
parent information sessions will represent the best of
evidence-based knowledge about child and adolescent development
that is currently available.

A handbook is being developed for local facilitators and the
issues to be covered for each age group include:

  • For parents of five year olds – mood changes and regression as
    a common reaction to a major transition, adapting to changes
    through play, how parents can help, making new friends, talking to
    teachers, heads and other school staff.
  • For parents of 11 year olds – bullying, puberty, divorce and
    separation, children’s fears, personal safety.
  • For parents of 14 year olds – communication and conflict,
    dealing with money, future study and career plans, legal issues,
    alcohol and drugs, relationships.

Despite some reservations, schools are seen by both
practitioners and parents as an under-utilised resource providing
an accessible setting for the delivery of the information sessions,
with the proviso that an alternative venue could also be offered.
Two primary schools and one secondary school will be involved with
the pilot schemes in each of the three areas.

John Peckham is head teacher at Bramhall High School in
Stockport. He says: “During the ups and downs of the teenage years,
young people need stability and security above all. Since that
comes primarily from home we are delighted to be involved in an
initiative which promises to support parents. In secondary schools,
parents find it harder to get mutual support, but when it is
available it can be an enormous help.”

The pilot scheme runs until June 2003 and the evaluation report
is due to be completed in June 2004.

– See Children Growing Up: Schools-based Parent Issues
, 2002, from
or telephone 020 7424 3460

Anne Page is policy and public education manager at the
National Family and Parenting Institute.

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