With the festive Season over and the start of a New Year, many parents and carers may find themselves struggling to recover, not only financially but from the burden of extra stresses and strain placed on them by personal and societal expectations to deliver an environment filled with peace, love and cheer – at least to their children; when things may not always be quite what they seem. There is no doubt that the pressures placed on parents and carers to provide for their children on all levels are high, but do expectations and reality marry up? And are parents being provided adequate support to give them the chance to do so?
Some believe that schools are now being expected to take over parenting responsibilities of their pupils, with many primary schools brushing children’s teeth, providing free food and taking on other hygiene responsibilities that are arguably, the job of the parent. The question arises, is this right? Should schools be doing this and why are schools doing this? Of course, no child should have to suffer, but many argue that shifting all the responsibility on schools is not the answer. Perhaps more support for parents is the way forward?
It is widely accepted that 50% of mental health problems first appear before the age of 14 and as such the ‘prevention and early intervention’ policy is touted in the government’s 2018 green paper, Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health provision. This suggests that the role of parenting in the development of children’s mental health and wellbeing is absolutely paramount but the main focus of the paper is prevention and intervention linked to schools, colleges and NHS services; perhaps it is missing an essential component, the role of parents and carers, especially as we see an increase in real terms funding cuts to schools and the NHS CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). So, it is vital that parents and carers are supported to provide their children with the best possible start in life.
Recently, the media has broadcast several reports of children whose needs are not being met by mainstream education. They are unable to secure a place at a specialist school meaning that these children are not receiving the quality education they are entitled to. This is being blamed on recent real-term cuts in funding. Children with SEND are already at greater risk of developing mental ill-health and such a dire situation with regards to their schooling when measures are meant to improve things, means they are not moving things forward. The IPSEA provides legal advice to parents and carers who wish to challenge the decision not to place their child in a special needs school.
On the flip side, there is evidence that parents with mental health disorders are more than twice as likely to have children who develop an emotional disorder. So looking after the mental health and wellbeing of parents and carers is a crucial component to ensure that children have the best possible chance of developing good mental health and wellbeing. The charity Mind provides information and support on parenting with a mental health problem.
Children in Care
For children in care, the situation is dire. The recent Channel Four programme Superkids: Breaking Away From Care, which aired in November 2018, demonstrates how it can be argued that the system is failing these children. There is clear evidence that children who grow up in care are at a distinct disadvantage, without privilege or entitlement; and do not receive the same level of support as those brought up in a birth family environment. It is estimated that 45% of looked after children have a diagnosable mental disorder, compared to 10% of all children. This shocking statistic has an influential impact on the life trajectories of these children, including their mental health and wellbeing.
This begs the question, where is the support that parents and carers so desperately need? And what can be done to ensure this much needed support is provided? Countries such as Australia, offer free online parenting courses such as Parent Works and have previously made parenting a priority as part of their government strategy, the Raising Children Network; and in 2012 Scotland released a National Parenting Strategy. In the UK, the charity Young Minds has a parent helpline – but this is a far cry from a government strategy and policy-led parenting classes.
Where can parents and carers find support?
Of course, a visit to the GP and a potential referral to an appropriate mental health service must be the first port of call but with long waiting times there are options for parents, carers and their children in the meantime. There are many resources available to address mental health issues for families, these include:
Care for the Family provides a list of Parent Support Organisations.
Family Lives offer support and advice on all aspects of parenting and family life.
Safe Lives are dedicated to ending domestic abuse and support families to become safe.
The Parenting Network is a Portsmouth based Community Interest Company that provides a much needed service for local families in Portsmouth.
Mindfulness exercises for parents includes the 100 day mindfulness challenge, free meditations and free training.
How to be a calmer parent – Headspace is an App with a variety of mindfulness meditations designed for different scenarios that you can try for free.
EFT for Managing Parental Overwhelm – Emotional Freedom Therapy involves tapping on acupressure points to release tension, stress and anxiety.
Stress Relief for Parents – Classes and More by Full Potential Parenting providing information
Talking Therapies such as CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy are available through your GP.
Wellbeing for Mums and Dads page on the Berkshire Talking Therapies website.
DHC Talking Therapies Service provide practitioners who can provide a psychological therapy.
Tips for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for parents and children which are known to contribute to mental health and wellbeing.
Healthy Lifestyle Choices for New Mums and Dads on the Australia’s parenting website.
Spending time with your children – Advice for Parents by The Children’s Society’s 2018 Good Childhood Report.
Blog post written by Kayleigh Rivett BSc (Hons), MA, PGCE (Twitter: @Klebee3), Research and Innovation Officer at the University of Portsmouth (Twitter: @uopresearch).