A definition of defining parenting could include ‘One who begets, gives birth to, or nurtures and raises a child; a father or a mother’ An ancestor; a progenitor. An organism that produces or generates offspring. (Dictionary.com, 2010) However, the role can include step-parent, adopted parents, foster parents, residential care staff and biological parents.
The Scottish Executive states ‘Families come in all shapes and sizes. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can all play an important role in nurturing children. While parents are responsible for caring for children and ensuring their needs are met, the wider family can play a vital supporting role’. (Scottish Executive, 2006, p. 1)
Stephen Leverett quotes, ‘Throughout the twentieth century, the state progressively and simultaneously increased its level of support to, and its surveillance of, parents and carers (in bringing up children). Much of this centred on ensuring children were healthy, educated and safe. Although sometimes difficult to translate into practice, the ethos of working together with parents was usually maintained even in situations requiring more interventionist approaches such as child protection’.
Leverett continues to quote, ‘This has continued into the twenty-first century when the expected outcomes for children from the perspective of the state have been more clearly defined and linked to the political and economic goals of the day (for example, children’s rights, social inclusion, respect and citizenship, competitive economy. (Leverett, 2008 pg 45)
‘There has been a constant shifting of the boundaries between the state, families and the voluntary and private sectors in terms of responsibilities for education and childcare, financial support for children and the management of children’s behaviour. Consequently the expectations and demands placed upon parents and carers are more clearly stated (and open to scrutiny), extending their responsibility to promote wellbeing for their children to the wellbeing of society’ (Wasoff and Cunningham-Burley, 2005). It can be stated that the ability of parents fulfilling these responsibilities can be affected by their position in society such as socially, economically and culturally. In response to this, the government intervened by introducing interagency support initiatives such as Sure Start. This delivers services by bringing together family support, health, childcare and early education. Sure Start covers a wide range of programmes and targets those from a particular disadvantage group and local areas. Many agencies work alongside existing services to support parents.
Parental responsibility is the term used to describe the legal status of the relationship between parent and child. Leverett states ‘It governs all the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child. People who have parental responsibility for a child can take decisions about a range of matters such as education, religion and consent to medical treatment for the child’ (Leverett, 2008 pg 48). Mothers who gave birth have parental responsibility, the same as married and unmarried fathers who are named on the birth certificate or obtained legally. Local authorities, if agreed by the court can acquire or share parental responsibility, however, those with responsibility must cooperatively work together in making decisions for the child. The court can be used to resolve any disagreements, if necessary.
‘Garrett highlights the extent to which New Labour social policy, in his view, is very much a neoliberal project. He identifies how welfare services promote specific ‘material and cultural change’, for example, the reshaping of policy and practice encouraging and enabling people to take up positions within a neoliberal workforce’. ‘Garrett argues, the creation of new sites for capital accumulation (across health, education and social care) and the transformation of working practices in the public sector through mimicking traditional business models (setting outcomes and treating parents as customers)’. (Garrett, 2006, p.10). The government intervened by encouraging childcare settings to be set up. According to Ball and Vincent (2005, p. 558), ‘childcare is seen as having the potential to bring women back into the workforce, thereby increasing productivity’. Ironically many of these women are finding jobs caring for other women’s children’. According to Blackburn (2004), ‘the day nursery market is expanding and in 2003 was worth more than £2.66 billion’.
‘The government responded to such criticisms through its Ten Year Strategy for Childcare’ (HM Treasury, 2004). Leverett states ‘This showed more sensitivity toward the position of parents and children by making the parental leave system more flexible and increasing the availability of part-time free childcare for 3-and 4-year-olds. However, parents of younger children are still very much at the mercy of local market conditions which can vary greatly; some areas have a surplus of childcare in contrast to others which possess insufficient amounts to satisfy parental choice’. (Leverett, 2008 pg 54). ‘The government suggests that the success of families is, first and foremost, down to the commitment and behaviour of those within them’ (PMSU, 2007, p. 55).
‘Concern has been expressed by some commentators at the way inadequate parenting has always been seen as a moral issue closely linked, particularly within policies on social exclusion, to poverty, low aspiration and antisocial behaviour’. (Leverett, 2008 pg 56). ‘Policy literature commonly cites the “condition” of exclusion referring to a disconnection from mainstream values and aspirations, as opposed to marginalization from material resources’ (Gillies, 2006, p. 283).
‘It can be easy to overlook the wide diversity of relationships and cultures within which children are embedded, but children’s own accounts reveal that they recognise the interconnectedness of the wider network of people who contribute in different ways to their wellbeing’ (Leverett, 2008 pg 47). ‘People help little children – like teachers, dad, the bank, the big sister, mam, people, uncle, your grandma, grandpa, hospital, auntie’ (Child quoted in Crowley and Vulliamy, 2003, p. 11). ‘Yet they also reveal that children hold differentiated views of key people in their networks, with parents (particularly mothers) and friends usually being the main confidants’ (Hill, 2005, p. 81). To coincide with above quote ‘Listening is important for the children who are being listened to, but also for the adults who are listening, whether at home or in an early years setting, at school, at a local authority level or in national government’. (National Children’s Bureau, 2008, pg 1). ‘I may not have speech, but I have a voice – I can give my opinions, I can even argue’. (National Children’s Bureau, 2007)
‘Every Child Matters is underpinned by the importance of listening to children and young people. The ECM outcome ‘Making a positive contribution’ should be a high priority at every stage of planning and delivery if services are to be successful and enjoyable’. (4Children, 2009, pg 2)
Leverett states ‘parenting cannot be understood without reference to each individual’s wider context, which in turn implies that parents are different from each other’. (Leverett, 2008 pg 58). There are four theoretical concepts that parents may possess, often referred as ‘capital’. Leverett quotes:
‘Economic – This generally relates to financial physical and material resources available to parents that can be utilised to promote children’s wellbeing and may involve obtaining a good education, good health or leisure for children.
Human – This describes the skills and knowledge possessed by people usually associated with education or work. Human capital can also refer to skills and knowledge acquired at the level of the individual’. (Leverett, 2008 pg 59). A good way to measure human capital is to examine whether the results have increased wealth or productivity.
Social – Coleman (1991, 1997) ‘identifies social capital as a resource that can be generated and employed within the family through parent-child relations and outside of the family through relationships within the local community. Social capital is considered important for some parents who wish to develop their children’s human capital and educational achievement’.
Cultural – ‘Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital goes some way to bringing together these different theories. As we have seen, social capital is knowing who can help parents achieve their goals to raise children; in contrast, cultural capital is knowing how to use these assets and other qualities to achieve goals’ (St Clair, 2005)
The capitals are very much interrelated, once one of the capitals has been acquired, you are very likely to acquire the other forms of capitals. Leverett states, ‘Human and social capital are concepts that have been interpreted as beneficial to society, as well as individuals, and therefore have been influential in the design of children’s services and the role and working relationships of practitioners. Economic, human, social and cultural capital are concepts that enable us to understand resources unequally possessed by parents and unequally provided by parenting support’. (Leverett, 2008 pg 65)
Coleman (1991, 1997 pg 59) ‘identifies social capital as a resource that can be generated and employed within the family through parent-child relations and outside of the family through relationships within the local community. Social capital is considered important for some parents who wish to develop their children’s human capital and educational achievement. ‘Where you live and whom you know – the social capital you can draw on – helps to define who you are and thus to determine your fate’ (Putnam, 1994, p. 14).
‘Three components of social capital have been identified’ (Woolcock, 2001). ‘Bonding social capital, such as within families, helps create a sense of belonging and understanding’. The importance of family interconnectedness and resource sharing is evident in a study by Bayat (2007) of families with autistic children. It suggests that adversity can promote bonding between family members which in turn can build resilience’ (Leverett, 2008 pg 60): ‘My son’s autism has made our family life tougher, emotionally and financially. Each member has to devote additional time and effort to help him, and learn how to live peacefully in such environment. Through working together, we all learned how to help my son together. In some sense, this also makes our family closer, because an individual cannot handle the toughness alone.’ (Mother quoted in Bayat, 2007, p. 709)
‘Children’s services as a result are now much better positioned to assess parents fairly without discrimination linked to factors such as age, sexuality, health status, social class or ethnic background. It is also recognised that the capacity of parents can be enhanced or undermined by factors and experiences, sometimes within their control sometimes not, located in family and wider social networks or created by the cultural, social, political and economic environment’. (Leverett, 2008 pg 66). To link this statement, a good example to support parents is using services such as Sure Start. However, Quinton (2004, p. 181) ‘argues that formal services should see themselves as part of the ecology of parenting: ‘inter-agency working needs to be part of an effort to understand the whole of parenting ecology – not just a desire to see agencies work together better’. This can illustrated with state education, even though it is expensive for parents in terms of clothing, for example, it can still have a negative effect on children whose parents are on low incomes.
We can promote and support positive parenting by promoting capital by interventions such as the Knex Club run by Rebecca Howell. Rebecca states, ‘They design and make their models. So we thought it would be nice in Year 3 for the parents to come, to be invited to come in and to work with the children to see what goes on in school, to make them feel more comfortable coming into school’. (Open University, 2008)
To conclude ‘If we were to write a job description for the role of parent or carer it would surely present itself as a complex and challenging task, subject to high levels of scrutiny and anxiety. Despite this, significant numbers of people in all populations continue to derive great pleasure and satisfaction from doing it. Attention has been drawn to the way in which those directly involved in the day-to-day care of children can be supported by agencies and adults (both formal and informal) located in a wider network’. (Leverett, 2008 pg 47)
‘The concepts of social and cultural capital are useful thinking tools when supporting parents through social networking or when constructing fair, accessible and equitable services’. (Leverett, 2008 pg 81)