Children, parents and family challenges
When parents raise their children in nurturing, warm, sensitive, responsive and flexible ways, children grow and develop well. And when parents have support and feel accepted and valued in their communities, they can parent effectively and help their children do well.
All parents experience ups and downs as their children grow and develop. Many parents experience extra challenges from time to time. These challenges can make it harder for them to give their children the loving support they need for development.
For example, family challenges might include:
- financial problems or unemployment
- frequent family relocation
- relationship problems, family breakdown and single parenting
- illness or disability
- family violence
- alcohol and other drug use
- racism, or discrimination based on race, culture, or sexual orientation or gender identity
- social isolation.
With information, skills, strategies and support, parents can navigate these types of family challenges and their children can thrive, now and in the future.
Support for parents can range from emotional, practical and financial support, to employment opportunities and family-friendly community activities.
Supporting families experiencing challenges
When you’re looking at ways to support families experiencing challenges, it’s best to take a family-centred approach. This means tailoring support to individual family circumstances and developing support options in partnership with parents and children.
Using this kind of approach, you can:
- create a safe environment where families learn to trust you
- put families in touch with helpful resources
- give accurate advice and information in a sensitive way
- support families during times of change
- give parents the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to make decisions that suit their own circumstances.
Respectful and effective communication is essential to understanding individual family circumstances and fostering partnerships.
Reaching families experiencing challenges
Many families have times where they’re under financial or time pressure. This can mean they don’t have the time, money or opportunities to use services or to use services often.
Sometimes families might not seek help or use services because they feel intimidated, feel unwelcome or think that the service isn’t meant for them.
And sometimes families won’t use services because they worry that people will think they can’t cope.
Here are some ways to reach out to these families:
- Ensure your service makes all families feel safe and comfortable. For example, have a staff member available to greet parents, resources that show images of diverse families, and a child-friendly waiting area with books, toys and breastfeeding facilities.
- Check that the physical environment is accessible. For example, have ramps for prams and wheelchairs.
- Be efficient with time. Adjusting your schedule to suit parent availability and being prepared can make it easier for time-pressured families.
- Be flexible in the way you communicate with parents. For example, use the phone, emails, newsletters and face-to-face meetings.
- Check that the way you communicate is accessible. For example, are the resources available in the languages that parents in your program can read? Do you have access to interpreters? Do you use ordinary, everyday language rather than professional jargon?
- Find out who’s in the family. For example, you could ask about the people who regularly care for the family’s children, including people’s names, the names children use for them, their pronouns and so on.
- If parents are separated, look for ways to communicate with both parents, and negotiate this with both parents if possible.
Many families don’t know how or where to get help. You can be a key link between families experiencing challenges and the help they need.
Working with families experiencing challenges
When you’re working with families, it’s important to focus on family strengths and have positive contact with parents, rather than communicating only when there’s a problem. For example, it’s great if you can make a phone call or get in touch when something goes well for the family.
Once you’ve built up good relationships with families, it’s much easier to raise and resolve difficulties.
A focus on shared goals will help you and parents work in partnership to tackle problems. For example, your shared goal might be ensuring a child’s health, safety or wellbeing. It can also help if you express confidence that together you and the parents can find solutions.
A simple problem-solving approach can help you work in partnership with parents too. Here’s how to use this approach:
- Clarify the situation, issue or parents’ concern.
- Ask parents what they’ve already done to solve the issue – what has worked, what hasn’t and what got in the way. This way you’ll get the benefits of parents’ experiences, and parents will feel that you respect and value what they’ve been doing.
- Brainstorm possible solutions, and encourage everyone to come up with ideas.
- Together work out the pros and cons of all the solutions you’ve come up with.
- Together decide on the best solution.
- Discuss what parents might need to try out the solution – for example, tip sheets, phone numbers for community agencies or telephone helplines.
- Regularly review progress towards solving the problem. This means making a time to meet, either on the phone, online or in person.
Doing something early when there’s a problem can help prevent more problems later on. For example, when you help parents use positive parenting strategies, children are likely to learn appropriate behaviour and get along better with others now and later in life.
Providing accurate and sensitive advice and information
Sometimes you can help families just by providing them with accurate information in a sensitive way.
These tips can help when parents ask you for information or advice:
- Reassure parents that it’s OK to seek help.
- Make sure that any information you offer is accurate.
- Be honest about the limitations of your role and don’t feel that you have to know all the answers. Help where you can, and refer the parent to someone or somewhere else when you can’t.
- Build your awareness of community networks so you know who or where to refer parents. Create a library of up-to-date resources for staff and parents, and make these easily accessible to parents.