FLINT logo
Families Link International
Tel:0781 886 1724
home | issues | policies | family groups | courts | court reporters | research | law | contacts | donations | Useful Quotes |

Issues - protecting children from State - State takeover parenting

'An overall lack of vision is holding us back'

What we need now is a Sure Start for families with teenagers, says Laura Edwards

Wednesday July 28, 2004
Services and support for teenagers and their families are inconsistent at best. But there is a way forward. We need a vision of services and support as bold as the Sure Start programme, the government's flagship initiative in this area: we might call it Sure Progress.
There is an opportunity for such a bold move because the needs of teenagers are beginning to receive more attention from the government. The new five-year strategy from the Department for Education and Skills is promising a green paper in the autumn, setting out its "offer" to young people. The spending review committed some new money for youth inclusion programmes while, last week, the prime minister and the home secretary emphasised, in the five-year strategic plan on crime, a greater emphasis on parenting support and targeting "troubled teenagers" at risk of offending.
It is now understood that investment in early years' support and services for families with young children provides positive outcomes for children later on in life. Few ministerial speeches now pass without reference to the Sure Start programme. The arguments on childcare and support for families with young children are being won, and the rewards are seen in investment in childcare places, in children's centres, and in new rights to include flexible working arrangements for parents with children aged under six.
However, providing support in the early years is not enough. There is danger in a government strategy that emphasises heavy investment in the social, emotional and cognitive development of children up until the age of five but which then takes a "crossed fingers" approach to ensuring that the progress made in these years will be sustained. The evidence suggests that it won't.
If we leave things to chance, it is social class, defined primarily by income, that plays a bigger role in determining where children end up 10 or 20 years later. Leon Feinstein's work at the Institute of Education demonstrates that positive interventions to help families with young children up until the age of five, if not sustained, are no guarantee that they will continue to do well.
That teenagers and their parents need to achieve more is obvious. But the difficult question is how they succeed in doing this. More activities for young people is mentioned when teenagers and parents are asked what changes they'd like to see in their community. But while spaces and places to go are crucial, they are only part of the solution. It is vital those working with teenagers see them in the context of their families. We need to be as interested in the parents as we are in their children, because positive and negative outcomes for teenagers are as dependent on family relationships and the home environment as they are for younger children.
Recent research conducted by the Institute of Public Policy Research highlights how far we are from implementing this family-based, developmental approach when working with teenagers. It shows that parents of teenagers overwhelmingly agree that the teenage years are hardest for them to deal with. Yet at the time when they feel most challenged, they feel least supported.
Over half of them wish it was easier to talk to other parents of teenagers about the challenges that they face. Boosting support networks and the advice on offer to parents with teenagers must be a priority, particularly as the money available in the Parenting Fund budget begins to bear fruit.
The family-based model of support offered by the Sure Start programme, which integrates early education, childcare, health and family support, could hold the key to working more effectively with teenagers and their parents. Multiple gatekeepers, multiple providers, fragmented services, complicated funding and, most importantly, a lack of overall vision is holding us back.
Connexions, the government's programme for 13- to 19-year-olds in England, is an attempt to broker the support and services on offer to teenagers, but delivery on the ground is hit and miss, and it does little to engage with the wider family context in which teenagers live. Specialist services, such as drug action teams, youth offending teams, teenage pregnancy services, and child and adolescent mental health services, all work to important agendas but without recognising that one teenager might pass between each of these services at different times.
A Sure Progress programme - a Sure Start for teenagers - could provide a blueprint for bringing together activities, support and advice for teenagers and parents. It would deliver the best start in adult life for teenagers. It would link family support, out-of-school activities for teenagers, existing specialist health and social care services, Connexions and developing initiatives such as extended schools. Such a programme would require bigger investment, but it would also make better use of existing funding.
• Laura Edwards is a senior research fellow at IPPR. She is author of The Lever Fabergé Family Report 2004: Parenting Under the Microscope; and Passing Time: A Report About Young People and Communities. Both are available at www.ippr.org.

The contents on these pages are provided as information only. No responsibility or liability is accepted by or on behalf of FLINT for any errors, omissions, or misleading statements on these pages, or any site to which these pages connect, whether provided by FLINT or by any organisation, company or individual. No mention of any organisation, company or individual, whether on these pages or on other sites to which these pages are linked, shall imply any approval or warranty as to the standing and capability of any such organisations, companies or individuals on the part of FLINT. All rights reserved.