Parenting support interventions are part of a fundamental building block of a cohesive society. In a survey the European Social Network (ESN) conducted with its members in 2012, directors of children services explained that parent support interventions are measured in their capacity to improve parents-child interaction, parents’ knowledge of child development, parents’ problem solving skills and the child’s emotional and behavioural development. ESN participated in two recent events in Brussels to discuss the issues surrounding parenting support.

Family and parenting support in challenging times
7 May, European Commission, Brussels

The roundtable, organised by Eurochild and UNESCO, took place in the context of the follow-up to the European Commission Recommendation ‘Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage’ launched in February as part of the Social Investment Package. In the current context of the economic crisis, one of the most recurrent questions of the debate looked at what fiscal space currently exists to invest in family and parenting support. In ESN’s survey, directors also confirmed that the threat of public spending cuts due to the crisis is mostly affecting prevention services (amongst them, parenting services).

Given that finances are tight, most of the work is focused on outcomes, and services need to demonstrate their effectiveness. Therefore, there is a need to build on evidence-based practices that actually work. Even though delegates at the meeting acknowledged that evidence-based practices represent barely 1%,most of the debate focused on the role of control groups to prove the effectiveness of interventions. Stijn Hoorens from RAND Europe presented the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC), for whom RAND has developed an evaluation framework with two databases: an evidence-based practices database, and a general registry with all types of practices. Juliet Ramage from Action for Children, currently assessing evidence on parenting for Eurochild, highlighted “the risks associated with a control group methodology being applied in a different setting” and “the need to come up with an evaluation framework that underpins children’s rights.”

The European Social Network has highlighted that key services should continuously improve quality and performance in relation to relevant outcomes (i.e. changes in a child’s life and wellbeing) drawing on data and available evidence. Therefore, knowing what works is essential. For instance, the United Nations endorsed 23 randomised controlled trials on parenting programmes in 2010 for having shown positive outcomes for the families that participated in them. The main issue is cultural and social adaptation. Alfonso Lara Montero, Policy and Research Officer at ESN explains that “in several countries welfare boards and research bodies are coming up with local implementation frameworks. These local frameworks identify the essential ingredients of evidence-based programmes and adapt them to meet the local needs of parents.”

Grandparents as carers - Trends and support services in Europe
24 April, European Parliament, Brussels

The roundtable on grandparents as carers, organised by Eurochild and AGE Platform and hosted by Austrian MEP Heinz K. Becker, marked the European Day of Solidarity between Generations on 29 April. Eurochild conducted an online survey in cooperation with a wide range of NGOs and produced a study on the contribution of grandparents to families across Europe. The report highlights that “there is a lack of policy focus on the important contribution made by grandparents to individuals and families and society as a whole. The only area where the role of grandparents and government policy regularly come together is in relation to kinship care and even here the picture is mixed.”

Elena Echeberria, ESN member from the Basque Government, highlighted in her presentation that grandparenting public policies must:

  1. Help grandparents play the role that suits them as grandparents: give affection and transmit values to their grandchildren
  2. Help grandparents to take care of their grandchildren in a positive way for all family members: children, parents and grandparents
  3. Prevent abuse that can lead to dependency
  4. Recognise and praise the social contribution made by grandparents

The European Social Network (ESN) acknowledges the role that family and parenting services play in prevention. Part of our wider work on children and families, we are addressing these topics in our current project ‘Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes’. The first peer review of the project is taking place in May 2013 with child welfare professionals, directors of social services at local level and representatives from national governments.