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3 Why might help be required with parenting?

3.1 Needing help

Some people will cope with parenting without the need for additional support, some will need some help at some time, while for others parenting may be a task which appears to overwhelm them. Some individuals are affected by circumstances which make them more likely to require support or assistance. In this section we explore these issues in more detail.

Activity 5: Needing help

0 hours 30 minutes

What are the reasons for people needing help with parenting? Draw up a list of reasons and then categorise them under the following headings:

  • reasons to do with parents themselves, e.g. their personal needs, effects of impairments, confidence levels

  • reasons to do with the immediate environments in which parenting takes place, e.g. home, local community

  • reasons to do with wider structural factors, e.g. the organisation of paid work, a disabling society, racism or poverty.


Under the first category your reasons might relate to a parent's lack of knowledge, lack of experience, physical health, disability, mental health, personality difficulties (e.g. difficulty controlling anger), use of drugs or alcohol, propensity for violence, and so on. The use of drugs or alcohol, for example, may not of itself mean that assistance is required, but if drug or alcohol dependence means that effective parenting is impeded, then the need for help is only too apparent. However, it is important not to fix labels to certain parents, but to acknowledge that people may need assistance with parenting at certain times. Some parents may be quite confident in their ability to handle very young children, yet be temporarily overwhelmed by the challenges presented by teenagers. Others may be experiencing personal crises, such as divorce, which may be profoundly affecting their ability to parent, but this difficulty will almost always diminish in time.

Your list under the second category might include violence in the home, an unsafe physical environment, lack of stimulation, and difficulties at school, for example bullying of or by other children. In each of these cases some change in the environment in which the child lives may raise the quality of parenting. In the case of domestic violence this may mean moving to somewhere safer, such as a refuge. Bullying can be combated by a clear school policy which defines it, confronts it, emphatically outlaws it in all its forms, and supports children who report it. Lack of safety in the home, or exposure to risk or injury, can be tackled through the installation of practical devices such as stair gates, or implementation of other measures as advised by healthcare workers such as health visitors. Needs identified here can often have practical solutions, although it will not be possible to protect children from every conceivable eventuality, as no environment or activity can be made entirely risk-free.

Much more problematic are the reasons which fall into the third category, relating to structural factors. Included here will be poverty, racism, disability, poor housing, unemployment and a host of other factors which might be subsumed under the category ‘social exclusion’. These are reasons that often lie beyond the immediate control of parents and those working with them. Racism, for example, is more than just individual people being prejudiced against black children: it refers to a range of ways in which black people are disadvantaged at every level of society. (For a discussion of institutionalised racism and its effects, see Ahmad and Atkin, 1996; Butt and Mirza, 1996; Modood and Berthoud, 1997; Macpherson, 1999.) It is important to acknowledge this by asking whether services are sensitive to the needs of black people and all minority groups in the population. One example of the effects of racism on parents is those families with disabled children from African-Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds who, compared with white families, are markedly disadvantaged in terms of living circumstances, access to and information about support, and levels of unmet needs (Chamba et al., 1999).


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