As part of the Families Research Programme launched in 1999, the Family Affairs Unit, Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs commissioned the Centre for Social and Educational Research at the Dublin Institute of Technology to conduct an in-depth survey of parents support needs. Reported here are the results of this unique survey of the experiences and views of parents. The Report analyses the pattern of their replies and quotes extensively from the comments made by the parents themselves.
The broad aim of this research was to address the current lack of knowledge about the support needs of parents and to generate data on parents support needs with a view to informing policy and service development in the area of family and parenting support. It is now generally accepted that all parents will require support at whatever level at some stage. Supporting parents through preventative and protective support services for families is part of a wider objective namely, to reduce the risk of potentially damaging events for children. Access to, availability and quality of services and information provision for parents and families are important aspects of support. Therefore, it is important to examine parents' awareness and use of support services and the availability of information on parenting and child care issues.
Section 2 and 3 of the report discuss key policy and service developments in family policy and family services in Ireland. At the outset of the study, a comprehensive review of the literature was conducted and this is presented in full in Section 4. The aim of the review was to identify models of family and parenting support, values guiding such services and key factors contributing to the need for family and parenting support.
A total of 1, 000 parents participated in the survey. A 'snapshot' of parents in Ireland was composed using data from the 1996 Census and the sample population reflects the key demographic characteristics of this 'snapshot'. Parents from different genders, ages, income, education, occupation and geographic locations participated in the study. Data was collected by means of a structured interview administered to parents by trained interviewers.
Sections 6, 7, 8 and 9 present the key findings on sources of information for parents, awareness, use and ratings of family services. Section 10 presents a thematic outline of the key support needs identified by parents. Parents' replies were analysed and are presented using the following thematic headings: play and recreation, financial, childcare, education, health, structural and work related support needs.
Some of the key messages from the study and parents' responses are:
- Supporting parents and families is a complex and multi-faceted area but parents identified plenty of areas where they believed government action would be beneficial.
- The majority would welcome the provision of parenting education or support groups. However, parenting support should be flexible, meet the needs of parents, age-appropriate and non-stigmatising.
- The vast majority of parents identified health professionals (including GPs, public health nurses and health board staff) as a valuable source of information and support.
- Family and other parents are important sources of information, advice and support and also play a major role in influencing parenting practice. Section 11 provides an overview of key findings and conclusions. Section 12 outlines key recommendations for future policy and service developments. In particular, Section 12 focuses on the potential key role to be played by the newly announced Family Support Agency in promoting, co-ordinating, resourcing and supporting parenting and parenting and family support services.
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