Let’s get serious

When you consult your GP or practice nurse, you can feel confident
that they are properly qualified to advise you about your health.
But for parents seeking advice, there is no guarantee that the
professional offering support has any particular expertise or
specialist training in working with parents. Some may not even be a
parent themselves.


There is a myriad of professionals working with parents, from
health visitors working in local health clinics or running Sure
Start parenting courses to youth justice workers involved in
compulsory parenting orders. And in the rush to get more services
for parents off the ground, there is a temptation to assume that
anything is better than nothing and that it is sufficient that the
intentions of those providing the services are good.

But poorly trained staff who interfere or criticise parents can do
more harm than good. Particularly for parents suffering from low
self-esteem or depression, it is vital that support is delivered in
a way that enhances their confidence, rather than undermines


Mary Crowley, head of the Parenting Education and Support Forum,
says this is something that ministers and policy makers are well
aware of, not to mention the professionals themselves. Hence the
establishment by the DfES of the forum to promote high quality
provision in the sector. One of its key tasks is devising and
implementing core professional standards for everyone working with


Crowley says: “Because the sector is growing very fast at the
moment there aren’t enough trained people to do the work. Some
professionals are being expected to provide parenting education or
support who haven’t the training to do it.” Another problem for
some professionals already working in parenting support is that the
medically orientated training they have received does not
necessarily fit the bill.


With the help of an expert working group including paediatrians,
social workers, health visitors, psychologists and others involved
in parenting support, the forum has developed a set of draft
national standards for work with parents. This amounts to a
230-page document setting out principles and values, core skills
and knowledge, and performance criteria. The standards are being
field-tested and are out for consultation at the moment. Crowley
says: “They are based on clear research findings about what is
effective in parenting support. A lot of it is about the how rather
than the what. For example, acknowledging that parents are the
experts with their own children, and ensuring parents feel they are
always in charge, rather than that people are interfering and
telling them what to do.”


Once the professional standards have been formally adopted, the
next step is to get them implemented. The DfES is funding a
training programme for everyone working with parents in Sure Start
programmes and children’s centres that will use the standards as
the bench mark. Crowley and her colleagues at the forum are also in
discussion with organisations providing and accrediting training
including City and Guilds and several universities to ensure there
are enough opportunities for professionals working with parents.
They are also looking at different types of training – distance
learning and practice teaching for example – for people who can’t
easily take time out to study. 


Getting all the different professions working with parents to take
on board the new occupational standards will be a major challenge.
The involvement of bodies like the Community Practitioners and
Health Visitors Association and the family courts service CAFCASS
in their development ought to mean the relevant bodies will have a
sense of ownership. Ultimately it will be up to employers to drive
up standards by insisting that staff have a professional
qualification in parenting before doing this kind of work. But at
the moment, while there’s a national shortfall in trained staff,
providers are in no position to be choosy.

  • To view the full document, go to

Behind the standards

The draft standards for professionals working with parents rest on
the following values:

  • Parenting education and support should reflect the UN Convention on
    the Rights of the Child.

  • Parents are acknowledged as having unique knowledge and information
    about their children.

  • Work with parents should be non-judgmental and anti-discriminatory
    and should build on parents’ strengths.

  • Anyone who works with parents should have specific training for
    that purpose.

  • Good practice requires reflection and a continuing search for




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