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Parents are the providers of universal services


August is an especially enjoyable month for many people in various walks of life as the pressures of work diminish for a short period while colleagues go away on holiday and emails are met with ‘out of office’ responses. I have had a little more time than usual to indulge one of my favourite activities of observing mothers and fathers with their very young children and reflecting on parenting styles.

Following on from my observations, the conclusion I have reached is no very surprising one. Namely, that the parent is the expert with his or her own child; that most parents have extensive and remarkable skills for managing the infinitely complex and challenging behaviour of their under two-year-olds. This conclusion, in turn, leads me to reflect on parent education programmes and the importance of supporting mothers and fathers to achieve their own goals for bringing up their children, rather than the facilitators’ goals, and of empowering them to acknowledge and draw on the strengths they have built up over a lifetime of maturing as human beings. Programmes should always humbly acknowledge that parents will want to do what is best for their child. Perhaps the ultimate mark of failure of any parent education or support programmes is that parents become dependent on us, or identify us as knowing the ‘right approach to parenting’.

I have repeatedly argued in these blogs for the reinstatement of a universal perinatal education service. It is parents who provide universal services for their children and they provide them 24/7/365 for free. Therefore, to offer a little early support to launch them on their lifetime commitment to delivering learning, emotional, social and spiritual services to their children does not seem unreasonable – in fact, seems to me an excellent investment, even in times of austerity (or perhaps, especially in times of austerity?)

And as for those of us who provide universal services in an ‘official’ capacity, our aim should be to be ensure that those services revolve around health promotion rather than risk assessment. Our aim is to value the universal services provided by parents and to help them acquire, develop and refine the skills they have to do their job. Parents’ experiences should be located at the heart of every service and every parent education programme. At the macro level, our vision might be to make the UK the best country in the world to be a child because services, professionals and families all communicate in the same language. At the micro level, this means working with families rather than for families.

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