Parents are concerned and we need to listen

Posted by Kate Maher / Thursday 28 April 2016 / Early intervention
Woman reading to child
"We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future."

Former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Strong quote from President Roosevelt, the man behind the USA’s economic recovery following the Great Depression. He understood the importance of protecting our children’s futures by supporting them when they’re young. He definitely would have known a few things about worrying as a parent, being father to six children. It isn’t hard to imagine him empathising with the parents who have told Action for Children how anxious they are about their child’s development.

In our recent poll of over 1,000 parents across the UK, we found that 59 per cent of parents have worried about their child being ready to start school. This is nearly three in five parents.

Three in five parents who might have worried about their child struggling to talk or to understand what is said to them.

Three in five parents who might have worried that their child is finding it more difficult to play and to socialise with other children than perhaps they should.

Three in five parents who might have worried that their child isn’t quite getting the hang of small but really important acts of self-care, like going to the toilet or brushing their teeth.

Of these parents, 63 per cent were concerned that if their child continued to struggle and started school behind their peers, they would stay behind – throughout school and beyond, into their future lives as adults. And they’re right to be concerned. Research shows that over half (55 per cent) of children who are in the bottom 20 per cent of attainment at age seven (Year 2 at Key Stage 1) are still there by age 16 (Year 11 at Key Stage 4). As we have said before, all the evidence points to the fact that good development in the first few years of a child’s life positively influences their educational achievements and success in employment when they’re older.

Child development is influenced by a number of different factors, including household income, good access to essential health services and high quality childcare. Parenting plays an incredibly important role, but parents shouldn’t be expected to take on this responsibility alone. We know that the Government recognises this and wants to act. In January this year, the Prime Minister said that it wasn’t right parents get so little guidance, and announced that the Government would ‘significantly’ expand parenting support. 

"As we know, [children] don’t come with a manual and that’s obvious, but is it right that all of us get so little guidance? … What about later on, when it comes to good play, communication, behaviour, discipline? We all need more help with this – because it’s the most important job we’ll ever have."

Prime Minister David Cameron

It’s encouraging that the Government want to address the difficulties parents can face, but we don’t yet have an idea of what the support they’re thinking of will look like. It’s vital that Government takes into account parents’ worries and what parents actually want in their efforts to extend increased parenting support. Parents deserve to be listened to and included in the thrashing out of policies that concern them, especially as so many of them are already anxious about their child’s development.

Parents have told us that the top four things support needs to be for them to access it are:

  • Affordable
  • Non-judgemental
  • Trustworthy
  • Sensitive to the different circumstances families find themselves in

In one of the Policy and Campaigns team’s latest blogs, our Senior Policy Advisor Dan explored how important it is to make support flexible for parents, especially when it comes to encouraging parents from all backgrounds and situations to take it up. The parents we have spoken to from our services really emphasised this.

For support to be effective, and to actually address parents’ worries and help children become ready for school, Government needs to listen to parents. Action for Children is calling on the Government to make sure that, alongside providing good quality early education, it offers support to parents that is affordable, non-judgemental, and sensitive. That way, every child in the UK can be helped to reach a good level of development by the time they turn five.

President Roosevelt clearly recognised the importance of equipping our children for the future; we now have a great opportunity to put this into practice for our own children. 

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