CANparent research results

Researchers from the University of Warwick lead a trial of parenting classes. Ella Rhodes reports.

A three-year trial of government-proposed parenting classes, led by Professor Geoff Lindsay, has revealed there is a demand from mums and dads for such classes, but the provision of adequate funding is crucial. Lindsay and his colleagues at the University of Warwick found the sessions held were popular with parents, but when funding available to the providers was withdrawn there was a sharp decrease in activities and parents’ participation.

The CANparent trial aimed to evaluate parenting classes for parents of all children aged from 0 to five years old (later changed to six years old) in three areas: Middlesbrough, High Peak in Derbyshire and Camden in London. The sessions were offered to all parents and were designed to enhance parenting skills and confidence as a parent, stimulate a commercial market for the classes and prevent the need for future support for those who were struggling.

Held in two phases (2012–14 and 2014–2015) a key factor during phase 1 was the provision of a £100 voucher for each eligible parent to attend classes. In the second phase these vouchers were withdrawn, and in addition the number of class providers halved to just six, of which only four were active in delivering parenting classes. As a result, the number of parents enrolling in phase 2 was just 164, compared with 2956 in phase 1.

Lindsay, director of the Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research spoke to The Psychologist about the trial. ‘It’s of interest and importance that recruitment was from across the whole social spectrum – what characterised the parents was a tendency to have higher levels of parenting stress,’ he said. Since the trial ended David Cameron has expressed his support for these classes, and Lindsay added: ‘There have subsequently been discussions at the government level with representatives from various organisations to follow up his statement – we await the outcome. It is also important to be aware that there are many providers of parenting classes that were not in the trial. As a separate initiative during phase 1 of the trial a CANparent quality mark was introduced to enable providers to submit the classes they offered for scrutiny, and if successful, gain the award of the quality mark.’

The final report of the evaluation recommends that the government at national and local levels should recognise the value of parenting classes, as they were found to have a positive impact on parents throughout the trial. It also recommends local government and the local NHS should be open to working with providers to offer support to service users. Finally, future trials should analyse how and when to move from a subsidised phase, such as the use of vouchers, and what support may need to be in place.

Lindsay said some of the issues seen during the trials were a result not of reduced parent interest, but of supply of classes towards the end – models of financial support, viable for the government and acceptable to the parents, will be key. In a survey of parents in the community who had not attended a class, Lindsay’s team found that half would not be prepared to pay and only a quarter would put a reasonable contribution towards a class. ‘Also, the main factor associated with willingness to pay was the level of family income,’ Lindsay said. ‘This indicates the need to build up parents’ awareness of the classes and their potential benefits, and financial support for those unable to pay.’ 

For further information and reports, see http://tinyurl.com/canparent

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