"We know that 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 areas of life such as relationship conflict or financial difficulties, and help to bolster parents’ self-esteem and sense of efficacy. In terms of formal support, effectively engaging parents with support services and interventions is recognised as a key factor in successfully resolving problems and effecting positive change in families’ lives. However, those parents who are most in need of services, including those who lack support from family and friends, are often the least likely to access them.
Key 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 using professional family support is sometimes felt or seen as failing by some parents.
- 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 life events such as separation are all important factors in the level of support available.
- Barriers to using services: families can face a range of practical, material, social and cultural barriers to accessing and engaging with 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; numerous 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 which explores the characteristics or perspectives of non-service users. It is not clear how social support can be best enhanced for those parents who need it. Most research relating to parenting and support focuses on white, non-disabled, women. Generally, different family forms are not referred to."