Glasgow unveils new parenting support strategy
“People often say to us that you get the baby but you don’t get the book on how to raise the baby first,” says Dr Majella Murphy- Brennan, head of international programme dissemination, Triple P International.
Raising a child is a learning experience, she says. However, whereas in previous generations the family unit was quite broad and so advice and support for new parents was abundant, Murphy-Brennan points out that there are now many parents who are parenting alone and unsupported.
A unique aspect of the Triple P Positive Parenting Programme – a multi-level, preventative parenting and family support strategy – is to treat parenting as a public health issue, she explains. Developed by Professor Matthew Sanders at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, the programme aims to prevent severe behavioural, emotional and developmental problems in children by enhancing the knowledge, skills and confidence of parents.
Triple P is different from other parenting programmes because it is a system of interventions and so is suitable for every parent, says Murphy-Brennan, who will address Holyrood magazine’s ‘Engagement, Intervention and Development in Early Years’ conference in Edinburgh on Tuesday.
“It suits the parent with a family with minimal problems that just needs a little bit of information about parenting, even if it is just to confirm that they are on track. But it is also suited to families that have quite severe problems with their children, and also parents who have problems as well in terms of marriage conflict, depression, stress and anxiety, all of the issues associated with raising a child.” The programme follows five core positive parenting principles: ensuring a safe and engaging environment; creating a positive learning environment; using assertive discipline; having realistic expectations and taking care of oneself as a parent. And unusually, rather than targeting the most vulnerable families the programme takes a whole population approach, explains Murphy-Brennan.
“If we look at a population as a whole every parent at some point in time in raising their child can benefit from brief information about parenting and keeping themselves on track. What we have found previously is that governments the world over have typically invested their time and money and effort in helping the most disadvantaged families.
And yet, we agree that they do need support and help but by focusing on that 15 per cent of families, you actually miss the other 85 per cent who have problems as well. So if you want to reduce child maltreatment rates, you have to tackle the whole population.” The programme takes a broad approach in the way it works with families, says Murphy- Brennan, and focuses on building positive relationships.
“As an organisation, Triple P train a broad range of professionals from health, social services and education. We target the professionals who have the most contact with families – school teachers, family doctors, psychologists, social workers, health visitors, public health nurses – and we skill them up to work directly with the families and teach them a range of strategies that will help them to build positive relationships with their children.
It is really about focusing on building a positive relationship with their children and decreasing the frequency of problem behaviours that do occur.” This spring will see the roll out of Triple P in Glasgow, which will involve the training of around 1000 professionals who work in the Glasgow city area and will target all families in Glasgow with a child about to start school. The roll out will start with a media campaign to communicate positive parenting messages, she says, arguing that the media has an important role to play in destigmatising and normalising parenting education and support.
“Whether it be parents or aunties or grandparents, they will see these messages around their community,” says Murphy- Brennan. “It will also be supported by a website so parents can go on the web and get information about Triple P. They will hear about it on the radio, TV and newspapers, so there is a broad range of ways that positive parenting messages will be shared in the community.” The next step will be a range of seminars that will be delivered across the city, she says. The three seminars will last about one and a half hours and will focus on three key themes: the power of positive parenting; raising confident, competent children; and raising resilient children. During the seminars parents will explore topics such as their hopes and dreams for their children, how to cope with stressful events in life and how they can encourage their children to be considerate, problem solve and grow their self-esteem.
From these seminars Murphy-Brennan says they estimate that around 10 per cent of the parents attending will require ongoing assistance.
“These are seminars designed to give parents enough information that they need at this point of time – it is like a minimal dose, as opposed to a maximum dose,” she says.
“So rather than putting the whole population through an eight-week programme, you just expose them to positive parenting messages through the media and seminars and that is all that most families will need, but the families who do require the ongoing assistance then we can give them group programmes and intensive one-to-one support. So you are working across the population and really just teasing out who are the families that need this help.” There are high hopes for the Glasgow roll out as a similar Triple P programme offered to the entire population of South Carolina, USA, found that for every 100,000 children under the age of eight, there were 688 fewer cases of child abuse per year and 240 fewer children taken into care. Murphy-Brennan says the goal in Scotland will be to see some positive reductions in child behaviour problems and also increased confidence and competence of parents, adding that “we would expect to see a decrease in depression, anxiety and stress related to raising children.” But the key message, she says, is about helping parents to stay positive and build positive relationships with their children.
“It is about parents learning to like their children. They love them but so many problems and barriers come up and we want them to like their children. So we try to give them the skills to handle those situations and make the changes they need to make, because even small changes can make a big difference.”