Classes in parenting ‘are as essential as going to school’

A new parenting class is being piloted in Camden

In September, Deborah Durojaiye, a mother to three young children attended a free government funded parenting class currently being piloted in the borough of Camden.

“I was struggling, almost drowning under the weight of the competing needs of each child, and luckily for me, the government had the parenting scheme running,” she says. “It wasn’t a moment too soon! I went to the Parent Gym classes which were conveniently held at my children’s school once a week for five weeks. I really enjoyed it. Everyone on the course had such a great time we have all remained friends.”

Until March 2014, the Department for Education, in association with CANparent, is funding classes through a voucher scheme to find out if there is a market for high quality parenting support among parents with children under five and whether such classes can increase parents’ skills and confidence. If the scheme is successful, it will be rolled out nationally.

“We want these classes to become as normal as antenatal classes,” says Sue Robb, head of Early Years at 4Parents. “Children don’t come with a manual and, for many, parenting is a really stressful responsibility because they want to do the best for their kids.”

The voucher worth �100 must be activated online. Available on the internet and through children’s centres, community groups, GPs, libraries, schools and shops such as Boots, it is handed to a provider for one set of classes. This could be to tackle behaviour issues, sleeplessness, or coping strategies, the carer can choose. There are 32 providers currently linked up in Camden, which then claim the money back from the government.

If parents wish to take another set of classes, they must pay for it, says Sue, the fee agreed with the provider, although different members of the same family can apply for another voucher.

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Chantel West distributes vouchers on behalf of CANparent in Somers Town, one of the most deprived areas in the borough. “It has been very difficult getting some parents to take these courses because they feel that it is a way of Social Services monitoring them,” she says.

This idea of bad parenting, and ‘not coping’ says Robb “is exactly what this pilot is trying to eradicate. It’s not that you’ve been targeted. Any mother, father or nominated person can access it. There is a menu of different types of classes to choose from, times they can do it and what style they want to do it in; one-to-one, face-to-face in a group, online or a blend of these.”

This flexibility is key, as Chantel demonstrates: “A lot of my mums are doing face-to-face classes as they find the online version unhelpful. Childcare is also a big problem and a lot them haven’t gone back due to this. The majority also find it hard to use the internet because they are Esol (English Second Language) speakers and in their country they are forbidden an education so, using a computer over here is extremely new and a slow process. There is no course to show them how to fill out the online form or nobody to show them so I give them two hours of my time freely, just for this purpose.”

In affluent Highgate, Sara Poss has trained to become a parent coach through Parent Gym. “All 12 parents who have come to my two taster sessions have signed up for the programme starting this week in Highgate Library, which also runs a cr�che,” she says. “I think this shows that there is a real demand out there. The acknowledgement that parenting is one of the hardest jobs around, that it can be emotionally and physically draining and the outlook that there are tips and techniques that help to make parenting easier and more enjoyable is very encouraging to parents.”

Championed by David Cameron last May, these classes come at a time when his party is making unprecedented cuts to child benefit and family tax credits.

“All research tells us that children’s early development is a powerful indicator for later outcomes,” says Robb. “Hard evidenced neurological research demonstrates that a child can already be behind if they haven’t had normal interaction and it can be hard for these children to catch up.”

If she could, Durojaiye would take a class again. “The knowledge and information that I now have will undoubtedly guide me through some difficult times ahead,” she says. “I believe every parent should go on a parenting course at least once in their lifetime. I believe it is as essential as going to school, breathing and eating.”

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