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The relentless rise of ‘parent training’

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The relentless rise of ‘parent training’

The relentless rise of ‘parent training’

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  • 1. The relentless rise of ‘parent training’ Dr Ellie Lee Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, SSPSSR, University of Kent
  • 2. My starting point: Infant feeding policy
    • Increasing breastfeeding rates represented as a way to address health and social inequality
    • Decision to breastfeeding and practice of breastfeeding as a marker for a approved parenting style
    • Breastfeeding maximises ‘attachment’ and ‘bonding’ (and bottle feeding, especially with formula milk, associated with impaired bonding)
    • Breastfeeding advcated on the grounds it can solve large social problems because is good for the brain (IQ and EI)
  • 3. Some points about contemporary parenting policy more generally……
    • Claim that ‘the science says……’ is a central theme
    • There are more and more instances where claims are made that evidence from brain science explains why a particular way of parenting (most usually called ‘positive parenting’) is best e.g. feeding, sleeping, discipline, pregnancy behaviours
    • Parenting is now routinely represented as a skill-set that can be both taught and learned through reference to scientific evidence about how to parent well
    • The idea that there is a ‘science of parenting’ underpins advocacy of the work of the ‘parenting practitioner’ (in its various forms)
    • Politics is powerfully informed by these notions
  • 4. New Labour and parenting policy
    • Supporting Families (1998)
    • Why social problems happen: the importance of ‘parenting’
    • ‘ Good parenting benefits us all. It provides children with the best possible start in life. It improves their health, schooling and prospects in later in life, and it reduces the risk of serious social problems such as truancy, offending and drug misuse …All parents need support with their children’s health, education and welfare, and many also want advice and guidance on how to bring up their children…Our priority is to provide better support for parents so that parents can provide better support for their children’
    • What is ‘parenting’? A skill taught by professionals and experts
    • ‘ Many parents get by through a combination of instinct, advice, reading and family support, but this is not always enough . Parents often need help to ensure that small problems in a child’s behaviour or development do not grow unchecked into major difficulties…By learning better parenting skills , they can help to improve their child’s health and educational attainment, as well as their own confidence and self-esteem….’
  • 5. New Labour and parenting policy
    • Every Parent Matters (2007)
    • ‘ Parent determinism’
    • ‘ Parents and the home environment they create are the single most important factor shaping their children’s well-being, achievements and prospects…’
    • ‘ The evidence says….’
    • ‘ Being a parent is – and should be – an intensely personal experience and parents can be effective in very different ways. However, we also have a growing understanding, evidenced from research, about the characteristics of effective parenting ……Parents and carers are a crucial influence on what their children experience and achieve. The evidence of the importance of parental impact is building….’
  • 6. New Labour and parenting policy
    • ‘ Parenting style’
    • ‘ The support parents give for their children’s cognitive development is important, as is instilling of values, aspirations and support for the development of wider interpersonal and social skills. Recent research has shown the importance of parental warmth, stability, consistency and boundary setting in helping children develop such skills …..’
    • ‘ Warmth not wealth’  
    • ‘… what parents do is more important than who parents are . Parents engaging in a range of activities with their child [is] associated with higher intellectual and social/behavioural scores. These activities included reading with your child; teaching songs and nursery rhymes; painting and drawing; playing with letters and numbers; visiting the library, museums and other places ; as well as creating regular opportunities to play with friends’.
  • 7. A new departure for social policy
    • Family policy in Britain has been characterised as tending to implicit …..
    • ‘ Before the early 1990s, UK governments avoided adopting any kind of explicit family policy so that although policies affecting the family were informed by a set of normative values and assumptions about the family….these were implicit rather than explicit’ (Clarke 2007).
    • ‘ The New Labour government broke with the long-standing implicit approach of UK governments when, early in its first term it published a consultative paper Supporting Families ….A number of further policy documents since then have developed the proposals set out in these initial publications…’ (Clarke, 2007).
  • 8. The Coalition: The Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances
    • ‘ In June this year [2010] the Government announced that Frank Field MP has been appointed to lead and independent review into poverty and life chances. The main aims of the Review are:
    • Explore how a child’s home environment affects their chances of being ready to take full advantage of school
    • Generate a broader debate about the extent and nature of poverty in the UK
    • Recommend potential action by government and other institutions to reduce poverty and enhance life chances for the least disadvantaged, consistent with the Government’s fiscal strategy
    • Examine the case for reforms to the poverty measures, in particular for the inclusion of non-financial elements
  • 9. The Coalition: The Early Intervention Commission
    • ‘ In July this year [2010] the Government announced that Graham Allen MP had been appointed to lead an independent review into early intervention.
    • The review will focus on:
    • the identification of best practice in the field of early intervention
    • the dissemination and delivery of best practice
    • new ways to fund early intervention in the future.
    • The review defines early intervention as those programmes which ensure that babies, children, and young people build a strong bedrock of social and emotional capabilities to fulfill their potential and help break intergenerational transfers of disadvantage and underachievement . We are focusing on those early interventions that build the ability to improve outcomes for their target group in a cost effective way’.
  • 10. Proposals…..
    • Frank Field’s report:
    • - Establishing a new programme of early years education ‘The Foundation Years’ covering the period conception to five
    • - Use money that would previously have been spend on benefits for children on the Foundation Years programme
    • ‘ Parents are the key drivers in determining their children’s life chances. It is not so much who parents are – what their jobs are – by what parents do – how they nurture their children – which the evidence shows, determines a child’s life’s race…. schools should teach parenting and life skills throughout the whole of their school life . Pupils will begin to learn how they can advance the lives of their children when they start a family’.
    • Graham Allen’s report:
    • - Regular assessment of all pre-school children focussing on their social and emotional development
    • - A national parenting programme
    • - Numbering school year groups from birth
    • All parents need to know how to, ‘recognise and respond to a baby’s cues, attune with infants and stimulate them from the very start, and how to foster empathy …If we can invest a little early in the life cycle to help mums and babies, and young people, then I think you’ll find that money is recouped over and over again’.
  • 11. Policy under the Coalition
    • Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility (April 2011)
    • building a coherent strategy from conception to age five, and promoting an early
    • intervention approach across Government, informed by the Field, Allen and Tickell reviews;
    • supporting maternal and child health and well-being, recruiting 4,200 new health visitors and
    • doubling the capacity of the Family Nurse Partnership programme;
    • helping parents to parent well, and supporting strong family relationships, especially for those
    • who are most vulnerable;
    • supporting high quality early years services by retaining but reforming the national network
    • of Sure Start Children’s Centres, offering services to all families, but focusing on those in
    • greatest need;
    • enabling parents to balance work and home through generous and flexible parental leave and
    • working arrangements; and
    • providing access to affordable and high quality early education and care, with 15 hours of
    • free early education for disadvantaged two-year-olds, and for all three and four-year-olds.
  • 12. Public Health
    • ‘ Starting well, through early intervention and prevention, is a key priority for the Government…..increased numbers of health visitors , working with children’s centres and GPs, will lead and deliver the Healthy Child programme, alongside the evidence-based Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) programme . These services, working with partners, will support families to build community capacity as part of the Big Society. Supporting parents with parenting programmes has a positive impact on both parents’ and children’s wellbeing and mental health. The Healthy Child Programme also includes breastfeeding support and a range of proven preventive services’.
    • Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our strategy for public health in England (2011)
  • 13. Key themes: Early Intervention: Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens (Duncan Smith/Allen, 2008)
    • A clear focus on ‘the [expanding] bottom’…..the ‘growing dysfunctional base’
    • ‘ As the fabric of society crumbles at the bottom what is left behind is an underclass where life is characterised by dependency, addiction, debt and family breakdown….What exercises me, perhaps more than anything else, is the very scale of these problems, the creeping expansion of this underclass…the norm is dysfunctional….the dysfunctional norm is spreading… (IDS, p9)
    • ‘ There is evidence that people in the dysfunctional base have their children earlier and faster than average, building up a massive social and financial problems unless it is addressed soon’ (p22)
    • ‘ There remain the problems of what social scientists call the existing ‘stock’: the children and young people who are already presenting with severe difficulties, as well as the ‘flow’: those at risk who are yet to be born’ (p24).
  • 14. A focus with implications for all of us
    • ‘The transmission of parenting skills from generation to generation has changed considerably and while the middle classes can read the guide books, those with lower educational and social skills are finding parenting skills squeezed out as extended families reduce and more one-parent households have smaller knowledge bases on which to draw’ (p23).
  • 15. ‘ The evidence says’….
    • ‘ The research we draw on for this pamphlet indicates that what happens inside the family, when a child is very young indeed, strongly determines how they will react to people outside the home, how ready they will be to learn and ultimately what kind of citizen they will become’ (IDS, p12)
    • ‘ Neuroscience can now explain why early conditions are so crucial : effectively, our brains are largely formed by what we experience in early life….scientific discoveries suggest it is nurture rather than nature that plays the lead role in creating the human personality…It has been said that ‘ the greatest gift for a baby is maternal responsiveness’ . The more positive stimuli a baby is given, the more brain cells and synapses it will be able to develop.’ (p57)
  • 16. The evidence says Parenting causes dysfunction and therefore poverty because of how it affects the brain
    • ‘… ..if a child is born into a home where they are nurtured, where conversation takes place, where someone reads to them (even at an age where they cannot understand) then, quite simply, their brain develops properly. Their social skills develop and they go off to nursery school able to learn from the next phase of their education. However, if they do not have that kind of environment, if they are not stimulated, if they sit in front of the television interminably, if there is constant anger and shouting,……..then the evidence we present shows that such a child will arrive at nursery school unable to communicate or relate properly to others than in a violent or otherwise dysfunctional way’. (IDS, p12)
    • ‘ Dysfunctional families become incubators for the generational transfer of mental and physical ill-health and chaotic lifestyles that inhibit children’s ability to lead a fulfilled life. These damaging effects can be explained neurologically, biologically and behaviourally’ (p29).
  • 17. Evidence-based policy to reduce poverty means teaching parenting to ‘the stock’ to save ‘the flow’ (and their brains)
    • ‘… .primary head teachers who could spot the ‘difficult kids’ on day one at school…..[which made me realise] we had to go back even further….Clearly we had to delve back further, to think of ways of getting a child’s parents or parent to give the child the emotional and social wherewithal to get the best from school well before entry into primary school….Therefore ideas around intensive health visiting and intensive pre-natal care started to take shape, even going back beyond the time of pregnancy to the pre-conception, teenage years of potential mothers and fathers……I began to form the idea of a virtuous circle of interventions covering a generation aged from 0-18 and over again to the next generation’ . (GA p16)
    • ‘ An evidence base was beginning to accumulate on the fantastic ability of the brain to expand in the very early years….[and] it seemed ever more obvious that if we could equip the parents or parent to optimise (usually) maternal responsiveness and their impact on their 0-3 year-old children, we would be laying secure and strong foundations….. (GA p17)
    • ‘ The large human brain and therefore human head size requires the baby be born earlier than other mammals in order that it can be physically delivered. The brain then grows outside the womb, over the 0-3 year period….It is in that delicate and vulnerable period that our lives can be made or not. It is there that private competences and public policy must ensure that parents administer the best three years of emotional and cognitive ‘intensive care’ to every child ’. (GA p17)
  • 18. What’s wrong with ‘parenting policy’?
    • A new phrenology …. assertion, speculation, pseudo-science [NB ‘Nudge’]
    • A new relationship between public policy and (pre)-family life: parental emotion as a political problem
    • A further erosion of the integrity of the concept ‘education’
    • Contradictions: teaching Latin and parenting?
    • Under parenting and over parenting?

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