Parenting support in Tower Hamlets

In recognition of Parents’ Week Tom Morris explains how Tower Hamlets Council engaged parents in tackling their children’s difficult behaviour

In October 2006, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets became one of the 18 parenting early intervention pathfinders as part of a national initiative promoted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to deliver support to parents of eight- to 13-year-olds at risk of poor outcomes.

The project chose the Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities model, first developed in the US and now managed and monitored by the Race Equality Foundation. Funding was originally allocated until March 2008 to cover the co-ordination and evaluation of the project, training and support of course facilitators and to subsidise the running of courses in schools and community organisations.

The programme offers parents, grandparents and carers the opportunity to share successes and challenges and to explore what works best for them when raising families.

Importantly for Tower Hamlets, the programme is culturally sensitive and designed to recognise different traditions associated with child-rearing. This also highlights the value of community identity, giving children a strong base on which to build their own positive place in society. The programmes ran for three hours, once a week for 13 weeks and covered five component areas: cultural/spiritual, rites of passage, enhancing relationships, positive discipline and community involvement.

All programmes were free and included workbooks and childcare costs. The take-up of childcare places was one of the most expensive parts of the programme but proved essential for many parents who would otherwise have been unable to attend.

Schools and community organisations that engaged with the programme nominated members of staff to be trained to deliver the courses. They were then supported by a team of experienced facilitators in running the first course, with the ultimate aim of each school becoming self-sufficient.

Between March 2007 and January 2008, 105 new facilitators were trained, including 44 school staff (made up primarily of teaching assistants, learning mentors and home-school liaison workers), 21 from the third sector, 12 from early years settings and 11 from crime reduction. The rest were from the primary care trust and other agencies providing children’s services.

By the end of March 2008, 53 courses had been delivered or started in 28 schools and two voluntary organisations. A total of 609 parents started the courses and more than 80% completed. To meet local needs, courses were ran in Sylheti and Somali languages.

At the end of the programme, the DCSF agreed continued funding for the next three years, but at a significantly reduced rate. Plans are now being developed to link parent support advisers, who are specialists in parental engagement to the delivery of Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities across the borough’s schools. This could include providing direct and confidential support with parents or carers in an extended school context, offering support with children’s behaviour, providing access to parenting programmes and linking with other services to help parents with more specific issues.

● Tom Morris is parenting early intervention project manager at Tower Hamlets Council

This article is published in the 16 October issue of Community Care under the heading Pathfinder success for families who ran risk of poor outcomes

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