Professor Lynn McDonald is the founder of Families and Schools Together (FAST), a multi-family group programme designed to increase child well-being and build cohesion within low-income and socially marginalised families. She responds to the recent government pledge to increase relationship support for families to help prevent poverty.
In a recent speech on his Life Chances Strategy, David Cameron outlined how the government intends to transform the lives of Britain’s poor. Emphasising the importance of strengthening families in helping to prevent poverty, he pledged to take action against poor parenting and announced a doubling of funding for relationship support over the next five years.
“Families are the best anti-poverty measure ever invented,” Mr Cameron said. “They are a welfare, education and counselling system all wrapped up into one.”
As the founder of early intervention programme Families and Schools Together (FAST), I support David Cameron’s initiative to make evidence-based and supportive parenting groups available to everyone. Modern societies should provide solid structures to support the challenge of parenting a child into adulthood, rather than leaving them on their own to manage.
Cameron’s comments sparked renewed debate about the wider social impact of parenting– particularly in a comment piece in the Observer, which referenced a parenting typology developed by psychologist Diana Baumrind. In the early 1960s, Baumrind began conducting research which led to the identification of four parenting styles – authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved – which impact child development outcomes.
According to Baumrind’s typology ‘authoritative’ is the best of the four types of parenting, combining authority and warmth. With this as my basis, I developed a parent-child relationship self-assessment scale with questions on authority and warmth to produce an overall score. This scale is a key component of FAST, a programme bringing together parents, children, teachers and the wider community in order to strengthen relationships and make sure children get the support they need to fulfil their potential at school.
FAST expresses the traditional notion that it takes a village to raise a child. The multi-family group is open to everyone and gathers between 20 and 40 whole families for sessions at a local school. The activities are led by parents and focus on strengthening the parent-child relationship, the family as a unit, the parents’ social networks as well as the parent-school relationship.
Parents reported feeling more efficacious and having a stronger parent-child bond
FAST is having a positive impact. As well as showing a significant impact on education performance, parents reported feeling more efficacious, having a stronger parent-child bond, having reduced family conflict, increased social support for parents, and a higher parent involvement in school and community.
The scale I developed has assessed 9,500 parents in the UK before and after an eight-week multi-family parenting programme since 2010, with results demonstrating a statistically significant improvement in authoritative parenting after the programme.