• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 24th September, 2009

Prescriptive or supportive - just don't cut the cash supply

The Family and Parenting Institute has joined the ranks of lobbyists trying to persuade UK government and opposition parties that however bleak the financial outlook, it would be folly to cut support for services.As one delegate to last week’s Institute roundtable in Whitehall put it: “Government must be reminded that outcomes for children are commensurate with the percentage of GDP spent on services for them”. That cautious appeal was a measure of the mood prevailing during discussions of parenting studies and their policy implications intended to air the findings from a series of newish studies – most of them funded by the UK Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). Researchers and authors agreed that while studies had identified the considerable scope for government to shape and improve parenting services, the focus in the perilous economic climate must be on ensuring that the overall spend was protected. Themes for the day included parenting in poor and “ordinary” families, the influence of faith, race and ethnicity on parenting practices and understanding the importance of fathering. There was agreement that policies to support parents needed to go beyond typical parenting interventions to include all of the factors that affected families, including health, transport and community-level policies. With it went a consensus that it would be a big step forward if policies were focused away from structural factors or distinctions of family type (such as step-families, poor families or large families) and geared more strongly toward improved parenting “quality”.In similar vein, some in the audience felt that a renewed preoccupation with “entitlement” would give politicians too strong a hand in specifying the nature and level of “appropriate” parenting, and that there was a thin line between supportive social policies and prescriptive ones. Any such entitlements to assessment would furthermore be futile unless there were services and resources to meet the needs identified.There was an unmistakable sense of déjà vu about all of this, prompting questions about whether funding more-of-the-same research was really the way to break new ground in understanding parenting and how to intervene to improve it. “These things have been said over and over for the last ten years… We need more dynamic analyses of some of the issues,” one delegate suggested.Family and Parenting Institute Director of Research and Policy, Clem Henricson, summarized the general feeling. More should be done to offer universal support services to parents, alongside an entitlement to assessment for specialist services. Local government needed to better understand the condition of the wider population if it was to provide the most appropriate supports. The meeting was held in Westminster, rather as if Whitehall might “overhear” some of the messages from that close vantage point. Representatives from the UK Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health were there but, times being what they are, the call for greater adventure may be hard to take on board.Dame Margaret Booth, morning Chair of the event, did her best to strike an optimistic note: the presentations should be seen not as the culmination of the studies but as the starting point for conversations about progressive parenting policies. • Visit The Joseph Rowntree Trust for summaries of the research discussed at the Institute roundtable

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