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Scottish Development International Events Essay

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Essay collection launch 2012

In April 2012, Parenting across Scotland launched an important collection of essays in which contributors look at parenting and its many challenges from different angles. All 34 essays are concerned with how the forthcoming national parenting strategy might support parents (in the widest sense) to improve children's lives.

Over 70 policymakers and practitioners attended the launch, chaired by journalist Ruth Wishart and addressed by Aileen Campbell, MSP, Minister for Children and Young People.

Keynote speakers

Keynote speakers discussed their essay contributions:

  • Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People. Tam proposes the need for a national approach to achieve a generational change for Scotland's children. This would involve developing universal services such as health visiting to effectively identify children who need additional support; improving the approach to supporting parents; and deciding which parenting programmes should be available.
  • John Dickie, head of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland. Without an adequate income, the best efforts of parents are undermined. John makes the case for improving family income in order to give children a decent start in life.
  • Nancy Loucks, chief executive of Families Outside. Nancy argues that parents in prison are still parents and that there are clear benefits, in most cases, to maintaining prisoners' family ties, both for the person in prison and for the wider family.
  • Alan Sinclair. Alan recently completed a Winston Churchill Fellowship looking at early years in Holland and Finland. He asks what makes a good parent and how the state can help improve equality of opportunity and support families out of inter- generational failure.

Round-table discussions

A series of facilitated round-table discussions considered the following topics:

and reported back on three main questions:

  • What should be in a national parenting strategy?
  • What are the barriers?
  • How can these be overcome?

The notes from these discussions are published below. Although each discussion covered a different theme, there is considerable consensus and overlap across the nine themes discussed. PAS will raise the main issues which emerged with the Scottish Government as it continues to develop its strategy.


Dr Gary Clapton reported back. He is senior lecturer, social work, School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh.

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • Child care and early years' sectors to encourage greater male employment.
  • Acknowledgement that separated fathers (e.g. non-resident, in prison, divorced) remain parents and have the potential (and usually the wish) to continue to be involved in the lives of their children. Services such as schools and social work should always take this into account, not just when children's needs and welfare are at issue, but when, for instance, routine contact is made with the family about parents' evenings or school reports.

What are the barriers?

  • The assumption that children are women's business and that fathering is restricted to a one-off act of conception rather than a life-long process and felt commitment.

How can these be overcome?

  • Services should have a greater father-friendly image.
  • Encourage maternity services to involve fathers from the start.
  • Introduce a 'dad-proofing' approach to preparing policy and practice guidelines. That is, check whether fathers are considered in these documents, and whether such materials depict a fair representation of parenting by mothers and fathers?

Related essay: Scottish fathers: an absence in Scottish policies

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Early years

Lesley Kelly, Growing Up in Scotland (GUS), reported back:

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • Recognition of the importance of communication and language skills. If we deliver parenting programmes that require language and literacy skills to engage, then some parents will be missed out. We need to break the inter-generational cycle of communication difficulties. There must be good speech and language therapies in Scotland. We need to help parents recognise language delay in their children and universal professionals recognise difficulties.
  • It needs to invest in our mainstream professionals - common core skills.
  • It needs to be connected to a measure of child well-being otherwise we will not know if we are improving lives.
  • It needs to take a holistic view and focus not just on early years but, for example, support for young people for five years after leaving care.
  • It needs a social media strategy for parenting to influence a cultural shift.
  • Child development needs to be at the heart of decision making, especially in the care system.
  • Workforce - who does what for parents and children? What is the evidence base? Are professionals using what works well?
  • Early years indicators - so that we all working to the same overall targets.
  • It needs to be radical - we are spending money on the wrong things at the moment. We should be brave - everyone should have a role. The strategy needs to be inclusive, exploratory, adventurous and involve new people.
  • A psychological 'five-a-day' of protective factors.

What are the barriers?

  • Decision making based on factors other than what is best for child development.
  • Time, skills and resources.
  • Cultural barriers - professionalisation.

How can these be overcome?

  • Stop the professionalisation of parenting - tap into the strength of parents and communities. Ask parents what support they need.
  • We need to ask people to give away knowledge and power.
  • Use a balance of asset-based, strengths and deficit approaches for areas like child protection - we need both.

Related essay: Growing up in Scotland: what research tells us about parenting young children

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Parenting teenagers

Jill Cook, Parentline Scotland, reported back:

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • Universal (non-stigmatising) and including all backgrounds and cultures (including adoptive parents and kinship carers who are often missed out).
  • Attitudinal/cultural change so that people are not embarrassed to ask for help and this is not seen as failure. Parenting teenagers can be a lonely place. They should not be seen as having failed.
  • It needs a strong campaign which is positive about the parenting role.
  • Needs to be proactive - parents should not have to seek out help when they need it.
  • Strategy needs to include early and continuous intervention especially at times of transition (such as moving school, puberty and so on) which can change the course of a young person's life. There are particular challenges for adoptive families.
  • Services in schools to support teenagers to develop, form and maintain relationships; dealing with conflict resolution and disagreement is healthy.
  • Importance of good role models (particularly men). Most school staff are women; nursery staff almost exclusively women.
  • Include information about attachment theory, not just for babies but teenagers and how this affects long-term outcomes.

What are the barriers?

  • Gaps in services with age barriers inconsistent.
  • Parents are for life, not just until age 16.
  • A looked after child, once adopted, is still a looked after child.
  • Challenges for teenage parents and young carers who are teenagers.

How can these be overcome?

  • Parenting skills for people in prison.
  • Help parents cope with new technology/social media (adoptive parents/tracing birth families online).
  • Help when introducing new people into the family, new relationships.
  • All parents of teenagers should know where to go for help - a one stop shop which is well promoted and easily accessible.
  • Ante-natal work in schools.
  • Understanding the reality for young people in Scotland - composition of families, contact with absent parents - and equipping parents with realistic expectations.

Related essay: Parenting teenagers: relationships and behaviour

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Preparing for parenthood

Marion Laird, Scottish Marriage Care, reported back:

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • How it impacts on other strategies, for example to reduce poverty.
  • Change culture of bringing up children - importance of universal approach (not deficit model) but everyone needs to know/do/accept this as good enough.
  • Importance of parental education - understand brain development/attachment (for example 'Raising children with confidence') especially in the early years (post-natal and beyond) to help normalise support as standard.
  • Children and young people need parenting information/experience and understanding in schools as no longer just 'seeing' parenting in the community.
  • Not just about protecting children from harm or neglect but also about encouraging some risks (for example, in play) and resilience.

What are the barriers?

  • Lots of activities 'age segregate' children. We need to reduce this so teenagers/children/babies are more often together and available to the whole family (peer model support).
  • This is true for older people - can we combine the budget for them with that for early years (i.e. older people helping in nurseries/childcare).

How can these be overcome?

  • Upskill the workforce so workers know how to engage with parents.
  • Increase universal support e.g. increase length of health visitor intervention.
  • Consider how we can reduce the time children spend in 'toxic' environments so damage is not done or it is too late.
  • Let's not make assumptions about 'who needs support'. Maybe talk about 'first' parents instead of 'young/vulnerable' parents. Problems in mental health or neglect or difficulties are not a class issue.
  • Increase support to looked after children and adopted children because problems often arise in adolescence. Adoptive families do not get the support given to foster carers (and yet the children may have come from similar backgrounds).

Related essay: Consistent parenting: supporting parents

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Rosanne Cubitt, Family Mediation Lothian, reported back:

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • There has to be local (authority) buy-in to support the strategy, i.e. all services must work in a co-ordinated way to implement measures.
  • The focus must be on outcomes for children. Research shows that these outcomes are frequently dependent on the adult relationship (between parents).
  • The strategy should not just focus on birth parents but should embrace the diversity of those undertaking the 'parenting' role (different generations, kinship carers), including the wider community's role.
  • The parenting role should be valued, respected and visible in all areas (schools, NHS…).
  • There should be a lack of stigma attached to seeking support.
  • Global mobility and wider cultures need to be taken into account.
  • Kinship care: schools may not know when a child is in kinship care and there is a need for support of older carers (who might be out of touch with current methods and practice).
  • Schools need to be aware of equality in working with parents or carers when family separation has occurred (resident AND non-resident parent).
  • Lessons from past good practice can still be relevant, i.e. what used to work well.
  • The strategy should be a working tool which includes examples/vignettes of good practice.

What are the barriers?

  • People do not know where to turn to for information. They need earlier and easier access.
  • Lack of early identification of problems (in school, by GPs and so on) can lead to more crises.
  • Need buy-in from all the different sectors.
  • Head teachers are key in how schools encourage or discourage parents' involvement.
  • Prison services equally reliant on the governor's attitude to families' involvement (importance of the 'lead' people in all organisations).
  • Parents can lack the skills to negotiate the system to the benefit of their family.
  • Lack of finance and resources are a barrier to providing support.

How can these be overcome?

  • Need more locally-based support workers to co-ordinate support across agencies.
  • Normalising/de-stigmatising support for parenting.
  • Providing information and support for a cultural change.
  • Empowering people to take responsibility for their parenting, rather than becoming dependent on 'the support'; building confidence in their own abilities and communication; and offering resources to help them to develop skills, e.g. family mediation, parenting groups.
  • Realising that parenting skills are not dependent on income.

Related essay: Not just surviving - thriving

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Looked after children

Richard Meade, Public affairs officer, Barnardo's Scotland, reported back:

Key points

  • We are close to systematic failure for looked after children.
  • After 30 years, despite considerable development of public policy and strategies, and financial investment, the outcomes for looked after children remain unchanged and poor.

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • Much greater focus on early intervention and identification for those at risk. Children have a much greater chance of avoiding the outcomes of looked after children if they never enter care in the first place.
  • Particular focus on looked after children who are cared for at home - can often have the worst outcomes of all looked after children. Needs to be support for these families and their parents.
  • A multi-agency approach to supporting looked after children.
  • Maximum support to families - particularly practical support and disseminating good practice.
  • Community resources, such as child centres, should be accessible to all families and free of stigma. Families and parents must also be made aware of what else is going on within the community.
  • For looked after children, stable home environments are essential. So there is a need for permanency and quick decisions.
  • Can't ignore older children in care - strategy must focus on them too.
  • Much more support required for those leaving care aged 16. Many who leave care aged 16 face a 'cliff edge' of support. Need to manage the transition better.

Related essay: Supporting corporate parents

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John Dickie, Child Poverty Action Group, reported back:

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • Confront the reality of where we are - not just warm words and aspiration.
  • Commitment to less inequality and improve incomes of less well off.
  • Need to focus on the right target and context - not just 'parents themselves'.
  • What is 'good parenting'? What support is needed? Competence and consistency of key adults, not just parents.
  • Seeing wider services e.g. school, health supporting parents
  • Remove financial barriers to development opportunities e.g. swimming.
  • Giving opportunities for children to talk about the experience of being parented. More generally, discussion about how society as a whole brings up children and recognition of the need to invest collectively.

What are the barriers?

  • Parental confidence to use even 'free' services.
  • Costs in getting to services.
  • Fear of being exposed to judgement.
  • Stigma of poverty.
  • Physical environment - housing size; (lack of) communal family space and play parks for safe play.

How can these be overcome?

  • Access to technology.
  • Tackle underlying inequalities.
  • Challenge stigma of poverty so parents do not feel awkward.
  • Recognise role of housing, environment in supporting parents by ensuring adequate physical space.
  • More unequal means more segregation and more targeted. Need a universal approach.

Related essay: Incomes fit for parenting

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Families affected by disability

Elspeth Moloney, Capability Scotland, reported back:

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • Should be underpinned by the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
  • Recognition that parents may be disabled and/or children.
  • Flexibility in what is provided.
  • Visibility of non-traditional families.
  • Importance of social and psychological help and recognition that all families need help.
  • Effective advice and information.
  • Transitions support up to age 21 for disabled children.
  • Recognition that disabled children going through transition stages are particularly vulnerable.
  • Importance of getting professionals to effectively assess disability, especially learning difficulty and recognising disability for what it is, not perhaps behavioural difficulties.

What are the barriers?

  • Have to be at crisis point before get help.
  • Limited resources for preventative measures.
  • Lack of information.
  • People not asking for help.
  • Just monitoring/assessment and no actual services.
  • Services not being inclusive and not equipped or qualified to provide services for disabled children.
  • Practitioners not being aware.
  • Transitional gap and confusion between age cut-off point: 16, 18, 21.

How can these be overcome?

  • More consultation with parents about what they need, not just what professionals think.
  • Increased contact. Not just waiting for parents asking for help. Need established contact with families.
  • Practitioners must be aware of what is available locally.
  • Services must be called to question about whether they really are inclusive and equipped for disabled children.
  • Residential care is not the automatic answer.

Related essay: Hardest hit: parents, disability and the age of austerity

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Lone parents

Satwat Rehman, One Parent Families Scotland, reported back:

What needs to be in a national parenting strategy?

  • Look at employment market/labour market structure and flexibility within this.
  • Standardisation of wraparound care for all.
  • Recognise the support needed for lone parent families - the specific pressures they face and the types of services needed.
  • Embed, within a universal approach, clarity about what we mean.
  • Specific mention and recognition of domestic abuse.
  • Availability of services as and when needed by lone parent families.
  • Continuity of service from professionals working with parents (universal basics) and trust.
  • Value teenage parents - support and universal basics. Look at what is happening elsewhere - informal and community support.
  • Look at examples of support for parents in other countries.
  • Recognition of post-natal depression/low periods for mothers/fathers.
  • Peer support strategies - empowering; how we develop community support and peer support services.
  • Visibility of fathers as parents and the important role they play (make more visible).

How can barriers be overcome?

  • Safe places where parents can go to say how they really feel about how they are getting on as parents! Where they can tell the truth without feeling judged.
  • Cultural shift - child friendly society; equally value children in our society; ban the 'no dogs and children' signs!!
  • Lone parent families themes throughout the strategy - recognise that they are not homogeneous but that there are specific issues and areas of need such as childcare, employment/labour market.
  • Universal services are a starting point. Community trust is important for building relationships.
  • Peer support/community support/informal support - address alienation and address stigma.

Related essay: Going it alone

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