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1.3 People involved in parenting

Another interesting question remains: can only a parent or parents provide these necessities? (We are leaving on one side for the moment the issue of which parent.) Clearly the answer has to be no. There are many examples of people involved in parenting who are not a child's parents. For example:

  • step-parents

  • grandparents

  • aunts and uncles

  • brothers and sisters

  • friends

  • adopters

  • foster carers

  • childminders

and in some circumstances

  • teachers and childcare workers

  • nurses and doctors and

  • social workers and health visitors (in some limited respects).

There are also organisations which care for children alongside or in place of their parents, for example:

  • voluntary organisations, such as the Children's Society, NCH Action for Children, Barnardo's

  • independent communities, which provide residential care for children with special physical, behavioural or emotional needs

  • local authorities, especially local authority social services departments, responsible for looking after children in foster care or residential settings.

This last group are sometimes called corporate parents, an organisation or body of people acting as parents for some children. An interesting history of local authorities acting as corporate parents can be found in Holman (1996a). His work emphasises the dedication of those professionals charged with assisting families struggling to provide adequate care; it reminds us of the sacrifice of career prospects which many workers make, and of those official bodies in which the public service ethic and the desire to help children predominate. Holman contrasts this unfavourably with the move towards contracting out services to private agencies which are ultimately interested in profit-making and employ staff on a short-term basis. (For a detailed account of the history of public services for children see Holman, 1996b.) You will of course have your own views on such matters. Other writers, for example Sanderson (1996), have argued that local authority departments such as social services are frequently seen as inefficient and ineffective. Thus, according to this perspective, they are likely to provide poor corporate parenting services. Certainly, some forms of corporate parenting, in the past and in the present, have not only failed to act as parents but have been definitely harmful for many children (Department of Health, 1997; Department of Health and Welsh Office, 2000).

Historical and social changes have influenced styles and beliefs relating to parenting and corporate parenting. For example, at the start of the twentieth century children with disabilities would often be placed in ‘colonies’. These were institutions or village communities where all the children's needs would be provided for, and which therefore children would not normally expect to leave. This approach was followed through fear of ‘contamination’ and the danger of their mixing with the ‘healthy’ population. The idea of strict separation arose from the influence of eugenics, a movement active in the early twentieth century, which insisted that disabled people were biologically ‘inferior’ or ‘flawed’. And in the early part of the twentieth century the emphasis in child raising would have been on conformity and obedience, hierarchy and order in families beneath a male head of household, whereas the emphasis now, in many families, is on individuality and self-fulfilment. Even a brief review of the enormous range of advice and opinion offered to parents over the past century will demonstrate that ways of bringing children up have always been very heavily influenced by the changing ideas of particular historical periods (Hardyment, 1995).

This brings into sharp focus a fundamental theme that runs through this course: is there such a thing as quality parenting? How can it be supported and encouraged? We now address these questions in more detail.


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