Research into practice

Home-Start is a home visiting programme in which trained parent volunteers, supported by paid staff, work with parents who have at least one child under five.

It was held up in the government’s Every Child Matters as an example of progressive practice. But what are the experiences and concerns of parents who use Home-Start and what more can be done to incorporate parents’ own views in such programmes?

Home-Start (Peterborough) was interested in parents’ experiences.1 A questionnaire was given to 50 parents using Home-Start and the responses were compared with 57 parents from the community. Three Home-Start parents took part in face-to-face interviews.

Nearly three-quarters of parents had not heard of Home-Start before their referral. As one parent said: “When I had my first child there was nothing and I was so lonely. I wish they had set about it sooner.”

Parents, who identified their main concerns as behaviour management, school bullying and family relationships, were receiving a range of support from Home-Start. This included volunteers who visited them, group sessions and practical help when required. Almost all the parents reported their experience with their volunteer as positive.

Most Home-Start parents reported having family or friends or both with whom they could talk. However, three parents (15 per cent) said that they had no one with whom to talk. In the community study, 8 per cent of parents reported that they had no one to talk to.2 It seems that the proportion of Home-Start parents in this isolated position is significantly higher.

Parents are looking for support (89 per cent) and advice (63 per cent) from Home-Start. This finding is in contrast to the community sample whom were generally seeking advice (81 per cent) and information (64 per cent) rather than support (46 per cent).

The interviews highlighted the isolated and vulnerable state that many parents are in. It also showed that interventions may not necessarily meet users’ expectations. For example, one mother’s experience in a group was positive but not in the ways that she had expected. “I thought they would help with problems and I would hear about others’ experiences…but we didn’t really talk about problems with kids. I would like to have talked about some of the behavioural problems (with my kids), but I felt too shy to ask. It didn’t give me what I was expecting, but it gave me something else.”

The research suggests that parents find Home-Start to be supportive to their needs and helpful. Parents particularly value their relationship with their volunteer and some enjoy the group experiences which provide contact with other parents in similar situations to themselves.

However, Home-Start parents are looking for “support”. It is important to think about how Home-Start fits into the whole picture of parent support, as seen by policymakers. Parents are clear that they would seek help from Home-Start, the health providers and the school. These are services perceived as non-stigmatisingÊ- there to help rather than to judge. Service providers need to try and use these agencies to facilitate appropriate inter-professional responses.

1 J Akister, K Johnson, B McKeigue & S Ambler, “Parenting with Home-Start: Users’ views”, Practice, 15(1), 2003

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

Jane Akister and Ken Johnson are senior lecturers in social work at Anglia Polytechnic University. Contact Jane Akister on 01223 363271 Ext 2550.

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