3.7 Parents taking the lead with practitioner support
There are some situations in which parents are the leaders. Footprints, for example, is a parent-run breastfeeding support project that arose out of Sure Start. In the case study below, Emma Yates, researcher, explains the purpose of Footprints.
Footprints is a drop-in group on a Wednesday morning. Its main aim is to provide breastfeeding support for mums with babies, but much else happens as well. The group was set up by Sally Jeffs, Amanda Fellgate and Samantha Brace, who are all mums with small babies. They had each experienced problems with breastfeeding, and felt they would like to offer support to others in a similar position. The group has now been running very successfully for a year, and is entirely run by mums, with professional support given by a Sure Start health visitor when needed. Sally, Amanda and Samantha are visiting new mums in hospitals, where they offer information and advice at their bedside.
When Sally originally went to Sure Start and suggested the idea of Footprints, she was provided with support and the means to get started. She managed to locate the premises in which to hold the group, and was able to liaise with health visitors and midwives. A teenage worker and a play worker also helped by distributing information packs to parents. In addition, Sally was given office support for photocopying, printing and telephoning. As she says, ‘Sure Start offered encouragement and support throughout – not just financial. When we went through a rough patch they helped us to keep the group going by their ongoing support.’ Sure Start is also paying for the group's first birthday party.
Although the major focus is breastfeeding, there are clear educational spin-offs, both for children and parents. As Sally explains: ‘We were using the toys in the Salvation Army premises and they were very old and a bit unhygienic, to be honest. We thought, would we let our own children play with them? The answer was clearly “no”. We managed to obtain a grant of £350 for new toys, equipment and books. We chose the toys according to the early years points of learning. The emphasis was on “enhancing toys” for babies, but for older siblings we bought a tower with different platforms, Noah's Ark, tents, tunnels and books. We blocked off one half of the room for the older children to play.’ The atmosphere during a normal group session is relaxed, and relates to the feeling of a crèche or a playgroup. Young babies are clearly stimulated by the sights and sounds, and siblings get much from being with and playing with each other.
All three parents have undergone a ten-week training course to ensure they have the skills to offer the best support for a particular situation. The training provides insights into nutrition and breast health. There is recognition that every mum is different, and that some may prefer to share breastfeeding difficulties with another experienced mum rather than go to a clinic or talk to a health visitor. Sure Start has given the group a commitment to ongoing training, to make sure that mums are provided with up-to-date support. Sally has done various other courses through Sure Start. These include ‘Breastfeeding for Special Care Babies’, ‘Child Behaviour Management Volunteer Training’, ‘United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Baby Friendly Intensive’, and ‘Nutrition’. She is also about to start the National Childbirth Trust's (NCT) ‘Breastfeeding Councillor's Course’.
Activity 7 Parents supporting parents
The Footprints project gives a sense of what parents can achieve when they are enabled and supported by professionals. Within your setting, are there any ways in which you encourage parents to support each other? If nothing springs to mind, consider how you might set about helping this to happen. You may wish to make some notes about your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Some partnership arrangements involve parents doing what practitioners suggest, but parents often provide support and learn from each other. Such collaborations may be described as 'peer', 'collaborative' or 'cooperative' learning, which equally applies to children's learning from each other. In some situations professionals might take a facilitator's role rather than a leading, teaching or training role. And at other times parents may share valuable expertise with practitioners as well as other parents. Online forums, blogs and social networking sites increase the range of options available for effective communication between people who may not be able or willing to meet face to face.
As we have said, many partnership arrangements involve parents doing what practitioners suggest. This can have much value, but it is important to remember that parents have the capacity to provide support and learn from each other. In some situations, therefore, it might be best for professionals to take a ‘back seat’ facilitator's role rather than a more traditional leading role.