Parenting and support

Latest evidence from About Families

Given the importance of support for parenting, About Families asked what research could tell us about how families seek, experience and manage support from family, friends and formal services.  The findings are published in a new report entitled Parenting and Support.

This report is particularly relevant in light of the Scottish Government's National Parenting Strategy, launched in October, which aims to improve the level and availability of support for parents.

Parents manage better when they have sufficient and effective support. Social support can buffer the effect of stresses and difficulties which can arise from being a parent or other aspects such as relationship conflict or financial difficulties. It also helps to bolster parents' self-esteem and sense of efficacy. Formal support, provided by support services and other interventions, is a key factor in resolving problems and making positive change in families' lives. However, the parents who most need services, including those who lack support from family and friends, are often the least likely to get them.

Main findings from the report include:

  • What support is for: how families define their own problems or needs can be different from service providers' definitions.  People weigh up the costs and benefits of seeking support, and some parents see using professional family support as failing.
  • Family and friends: parents see support from family and friends as the natural first port of call.  However, this can be variable and can bring its own problems. Not wanting to impose, considering grandparents too infirm to care for children, lack of money, negative attitudes from families, having complex support requirements, and issues such as separation affect support available.
  • Barriers to using services: families can face practical, material, social and cultural barriers to services.  Families affected by disability, those from minority ethnic communities, and fathers, can face particular barriers.
  • Family context: parents generally want to receive help if it is appropriate to their needs. Most barriers to engaging with services are not of parents' making; many factors, such as stress, poverty, ill-health and social isolation, can combine to undermine parents' involvement in services.
  • What do we know about supporting parents and families? Much of the existing research on engaging parents in formal services is from the perspective of service providers rather than those using services.  Evaluations of services often assess attendance and completion rates rather than outcomes for parents and families.  There is little research into the characteristics or perspectives of non-service users.  It is not clear how social support can be enhanced for parents who need it.  Most research into parenting and support focuses on white, non-disabled women.  Generally, different family forms are not referred to.

About Families supports voluntary and statutory sector organisations to develop evidence-based services to meet the changing needs of parents and families, including those with disabilities.

About Families is a partnership between the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, Parenting across Scotland and Capability Scotland.

Also in this issue

Other articles published in our Dec 2012 newsletter: