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developing programs
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Unique approach to providing
parent support
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   at the core of family empowerment . . .
a.   a mother's security, health, emotional well-being, education and capacitation are fundamental to the rearing and development of her children

b. the involvement of the father or other consistent parenting figure, male or female, and recognition of the abiding importance of the family, should both be at the heart of social policy if society is to avoid moving towards State control of child-rearing

c. the quality of support provided for the family by relatives, friends and the wider community contribute greatly to successful parenting, especially in the pre-school years

d. other personal support for the family can be offered by selected, trained and well regarded people who are close to the family in social status, ethnic and cultural background, rather than by professionals who do not usually have direct current experience of living the lives of those whom they wish to guide

e. the support offered to parents should aim to help them work out their own solutions to their problems and encourage them to select targets for what they hope to achieve, rather than being pressured by the advice, guidance or targets offered by others
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How parents are encouraged to
work out their own solutions

The parent support programs created by the Parent and Child Empowerment Organisation (PCEO) are unique. They are based on a radically new style of home visiting.

Instead of the conventional approach of offering parents advice, guidance and education on how to bring up children and deal with child-rearing problems, the PCEO programs encourage parents to identify their own parenting needs and their own answers to these needs. They are also invited to set their own goals, to be aimed at during the month before the next program visit.

The programs succeed in empowering most parents, but they demand a high level of insight, commitment and empathy from those who have been trained to work in this way with families.

Among the many practical features of these programs are the following:

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         Support visits to parents have an informal structure, aimed at establishing a friendly and productive relationship; the structure also contains a small self-monitoring element to enable support workers and parents to recognise successes achieved by the parents.

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         Starting before birth, the program visitors work with parents of children up to the age of 5 or 6, although most of the support is provided for parents with infants and younger children.

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         The programs are essentially pro-active rather than reactive, contributing to their success as one of the most effective support initiatives yet offered to parents in the UK.

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         During home visits the program visitors discuss with the parents what progress has been made during the past month and any concerns they might have; the visitors hand out light-hearted illustrated leaflets that portray and compare various approaches to parenting; finally the visitors encourage the parents to work out their own answers to the challenges they face.

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         The role of the home visitor is the highly skilled one of supporting and encouraging the parents, discussing their ideas and plans rather than trying to guide them, and if need be questioning them in the hope of prompting further thought about possibilities; this is quite different from the methods and approach of most parenting programs, in which a variety of child-rearing techniques are 'taught` or expounded in situations where parent `learners` are meant to benefit from the guidance offered by health professionals, teachers, psychologists, counselors or other experts.

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Programs adapted to UK's changing health and social structures

The first program developed by the PCEO (known then as the Early Childhood Development Centre) was initiated in 1980, with generous funding and conceptual support from the Bernard van Leer Foundation. The latter is a prestigious international body, based in The Netherlands, that encourages the development of early childhood and community empowerment initiatives in scores of countries throughout the world. The Foundation’s support for the ECDC continued for 12 years. Subsequently the training and development work of the PCEO was funded by scores of health authorities - a maximum of 26 were involved at one period - collaborating with the centre in its provision of parenting programs in their areas.

Throughout the past three decades there have been numerous program adaptations to meet changing needs within the National Health Service and Local Authorities' Social Services. New insights and content are added where necessary to the existing illustrated and written program resources - totalling over two hundred different items, most of which deal light-heartedly with parenting, nutrition, health care, language, social and child development.

Health visitors and their changing role

There are program variations to match the skills of different kinds of home visitors. A large number of the UK`s health visitors have in the past decades played a major part in the structured visiting of parents within the PCEO's professional support programs - known as the Child Development Programs (CDP) - and have contributed to its pioneering research and development work in the 1980s and 1990s.

Community variants of the program have also been set up in the UK and in Ireland, Australia and a few other countries with a strong local community culture; here experienced parents are selected and trained to do home visiting within their own communities.

Following the massive changes in the the UK`s primary health care system between 2000 and 2005, health visitors are now required to take on many new and different roles, including the leadership of clinical groups. As a result, home visiting is a rapidly diminishing part of what was once their main role; official briefings have urged that health visitors should from now on limit their home visiting to families facing serious problems.

To deal with this major change in the health visiting role, the PCEO has developed a radically new Parent and Child Empowerment Program (PCEmP) that relies mainly on para-professional staff and is based in Children`s Centres, health clinics and other community-based settings. More about this program in the linked article below . . .

Parent and Child Empowerment Program -       key elements

-- provides information on the basic approach and strategies of the PCEmP program, and the responsibilities offered to experienced para-professionals

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How the Programs succeed

program dynamics

         The empowering support offered by the PCEO programs enables parents to learn how to cope with the stresses and challenges of child-rearing, without becoming dependent on outside guidance.

program dynamics

         These programs do not offer instant remedies to problems and situations which may have been months, years or generations in the making. But in a low-key way the trained home support visitors persevere in encouraging parents to realise and grow their potential strengths and skills.

program dynamics

         Significant changes take place in family dynamics when a visitor persuades parents to look positively at their child`s development, and recognise how much they are already achieving - despite other serious problems which might exist.

program dynamics

         The growing friendship and trust between visitor and parent enables the parent to bring other concerns to the surface and discuss them in the intimacy of the home, with solutions being sought as far as possible from the parents themselves.

program dynamics

         A primary aim of the support workers is to put responsibility and control of the child-rearing into the hands of the parents, rather than make them dependent on interventions by outsiders. The practical effect of this approach is that parents learn to set their own targets, rather than looking to others for ideas or guidance.

Quality of parent support provided by trained visitors is critical

Many aspects of child-rearing are dealt with during each visit, with the visitor taking her lead from the parent and in response giving information rather than advice or guidance. The empowerment strategy helps the parents to realise that they can take control over their lives and solve most of their problems themselves.

This method of supporting parents differs radically from many other support programs in which parent advisers see their role as providing the parents with valuable ideas and insights. Such advisers, whether doing support work in the home or leading parent groups in community centres, aim to persuade parents to adopt the 'expert' solutions being shared with them.

In contrast, visitors in the PCEO programs work to establish a sense of equality between parents and visitors, so that parents can gain the confidence to seek their own solutions.

The in-service training of visitors extends over a year. They start making structured visits to homes at an early stage of the training. Their training takes a variety of forms, including seminars, role play and accompanied visits in which trainers observe the quality of the support given to parents by the trainee visitors.

The visitors are also asked to reflect on and discuss in groups the degree to which their form of visiting may serve to empower or disempower if practised in real visiting situations. In due course trainers are selected from more experienced visitors, to undergo intensive training for their leadership role.

The training helps program visitors recognise that although parents may initially express their desire for support - because they think they can no longer cope with their own or their children's shortcomings - they soon start to resent or reject advice offered to them on the sensitive and personal issues of child-rearing.

It is only when parents are helped to realise that they themselves have the capacity to resolve their concerns, largely or entirely by their own efforts, that they become truly empowered, able to search for their own solutions the next time they face a parenting challenge.

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