How to facilitate the active participation of parents

Why work with parents on a prevention programme:

Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is everyone’s problem and the way to tackle this issue is everyone working together in a holistic way.  If parents/carers can work with education settings on a prevention programme we are making a step in the right direction.  Parents/carers often know their children better than anyone else and it is vital they are involved in this work if it is going to be effective and sustainable.  Research estimates that one in four women are affected by domestic violence in their life time and two women are killed each week.  These stats are a warning sign that prevention work needs to be implemented to prevent these stats rising or becoming a reality for young people.

Parents/carers want children to be educated about sex and relationships. Focus groups in England found that ‘parents regarded sex and relationship education as hugely important in a child’s overall development’. In a survey carried out for National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in 2013, 88 percent of parents said sex education and lessons on adult and peer relationships should be mandatory in schools. It also found that 83 per cent had sufficient confidence in schools’ ability to help their children understand the dangers specifically associated with pornography that they believed teachers were as important as parents in handling the issue. Just 13 per cent thought it should be left to parents alone to educate children about pornography while four per cent would rather schools take sole charge.

“One of the most controversial aspects of delivering messages on sensitive topics such as pornography is when it is appropriate to start. While more than half (51 per cent) believed that lessons on the dangers of pornography should not be introduced to children until they’d reached their teens, 42 per cent felt that even children as young as five or six needed guidance as soon as they were old enough to access the internet. Just seven per cent thought it was never appropriate to raise issues of pornography in schools.”

Parents/carers are an important source of information for children and young people. Half of the young people (aged 11–14) in one survey said they wanted to talk about sex with parents because they don’t trust the information they get from friends [1]. A third felt talking about sex and sexual health would help them feel closer to their parents [2] The tendency that children want to learn about sex and relationships from their parents is confirmed in a review of literature published between 2000 and 2006 [3].

Parents want to talk to their children about sex and relationships and recognise that it can benefit their relationship with their child. Over half of parents say that being able to talk about sex, sexual health and relationships with their teen would make them feel like a better parent. And 41 percent believe that talking would help them understand their teen better[4].

Parents/carers are generally very supportive of Sex and Relationships Education. Although parents are given the option to withdraw their children from sex and relationship education, this very rarely actually happens. Currently in England, parents have a right to withdraw
 their child from sex and relationships education in
 primary and secondary school. In practice, Ofsted found
 that less than one per cent of parents choose to
 with draw their children. [5]

How to work with parents/carers:

The Sex Education Forum collected examples to show the variety of ways that education professionals can work with parents, to engage them in sex and relationships education, this includes:

  • letting parents know about the education programme, when it is happening and what will be talked about, this could be through sending home leaflets and support details
  • sending home discussion notes for parents to talk about with their children.
  • inviting parents to participate in family workshops that develop relationships and encourage good communication between parents and children
  • deliver workshops and courses for parents, see the section on parents learning
  • listening to parents’ views through surveys and research.

There are many ways to work with parents/carers to address these issues but as an organisation you will need to decide how best to do this based on an understanding of your organisation, population, diversity and needs of your students.

There is more information on delivering workshops with parents/carers.

Top Tips for working with parents/carers:

  1. LEAFLETS: Develop parents/carers understanding of how to identify a potential or actual abusive relationship by sending home leaflets from national and local organisations about Violence Against Women and Girls.
  2. ATTEND ASSEMBLIES: Invite parents in for assemblies on Violence Against Women and Girls, this could be a campaign assembly or one with a guest speaker.
  3. WORKSHOPS ON ABUSE: Invite parents/carers to participate in workshops that promote Violence Against Women and Girls. Support parents/carers to develop their own understanding of what makes a safe, non-abusive relationship This could be delivered in partnership with local organisations.
  4. UPDATES: Have regular slots on the website and any newsletter that promotes Violence Against Women and Girls and updates parents/carers on the work that you are doing.
  5. INFORM: Write to the parents/carers to tell them about the work that you are doing in the organisation to stop Violence Against Women and Girls. Let them know how they can support the work and what sort of things they can do to talk to their children about the issue. You could also run workshops to help develop parent/carers skills in talking to their children about these issues.
  6. HOW TO HELP: Provide parents/carers with regular information that is current and accurate about how they could help a friend, colleague, child etc. now and in the future if they suspect that they are being abused;
  7. RESPECTFUL RELATIONSHIPS: Support parents in identifying strengths of their children that can be nurtured in school. Support parents in role modelling gender equality in all intimate relationships;
  8. SAFETY: Support parents/carers to safety plan if they are in abusive relationships or living with violence and support their child in making one if necessary. Have the referral routes available for families to services if they need additional specialist support for historic or current experiences of Violence Against Women and Girls.
  9. ADVOCATES: Parents/carers can be really good advocates to engage children and young people in education to stop Violence Against Women and Girls. They can advocate for the school to do something and they can engage their own children in a programme.
  10. MAKE LINKS: Engaging parents can sometime prove difficult. However there will be various staff in your school that already have established relationships with parents.  These staff can range from Teaching Assistants, to Head of Years to Pastoral staff.  Once conversations are taking place about Violence Against Women and Girls parents/carers will be empowered to start talking.
  11. SHARE RESOURCES: Parents/carers may want more information and resources that they can use with their children. You could provide a list of resources or books that parents can use.

What structures are available to promote the participation of parents in different education settings?

Different education settings have different structures to promote the participation of parents/carers. Some use staff located in the setting to do this such as pastoral workers or multi agency staff. However some organisations have Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA’S), management committees or governors to ensure that this work is promoted and delivered.  In order to support work to end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) with parents/carers,it needs to be high on the organisation’s agenda and reviewed regularly.  Policies should be in place that parents and young people should be reviewing annually alongside the PTA’S etc. Inviting a voluntary organisation in such as the local refuge or VAWG service to speak to the PTA, management committee etc. will help to bring Violence Against Women and Girls to the forefront.

Relating VAWG to safeguarding and making these groups accountable will further prioritise the issue. VAWG is a major risk factor to children and young people. There are also clear legal obligations on organisations and individuals to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.  Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 living with and witnessing domestic violence is identified as significant harm for children.

Parent/carer groups, like the PTA or governors can hold the school accountable for what is being delivered to parents/carers and young people. They can ensure that a comprehensive programme is developed and delivered.

Keeping parents informed of the education programme:

If parents/carers are informed of the organisation’s commitment to ending Violence Against Women and Girls they are more likely to engage with the issue.  If parents feel amendments to the programme need to be made this can be done in partnership to avoid complaints later or children being withdrawn from the programme. In reality parents very rarely complain about sex and relationships education.  Organisations can then further explain to parents why this work is being delivered and how it fits in with Safeguarding, Ofsted and attainment of children and young people. Children experiencing and witnessing Violence Against Women and Girls need support so they can excel like other children.

There are many ways that an organisation can think about communicating to parents to tell them about the work they are doing to end Violence against Women and Girls. Displaying the programme on the website or through social media gives an opportunity for parents who may not come beyond the gates.  Organisations need to be mindful that not all parents/carers can read and write and language can be a barrier, so staff will need to speak with parents/carers where they know this will be an issue so they are being inclusive.  Weaving Violence against Women and Girls into the curriculum beyond SRE and PHSE for example, in RE, drama, English, history, media and art, allows some children and young people to have further conversations with their parents about the subject and reinforces the importance of the issue with parents/carers.   A letter could also be sent out to parents  about the programme, informing them about the things that you will be doing and perhaps suggesting ways that they could support the learning.

We have developed an AVA Template letter communicating to parents that you can adapt.

How parents/carers can listen to their children talk Violence Against Women and Girls:

For parents listening and talking to their children and not judging them can create opportunities to form a relationship where sensitive issues can be discussed allowing trusting, supportive and respectful relationships to be built. Violence Against Women and Girls is often a hidden occurrence and talking about it creates dialogue to start conversations, challenge assumptions, myths and stereotypes.

It can seem like a difficult conversation, an awkward topic to bring up but it is vital that parents/carers listen, talk and respond to their sons and daughters. For some children and young people, talking to parents can be hard as they do not want to burden them or they may be the abuser. Children and young people may want to talk to other family members and trusted adults, it is important that parents/carers respect their decision to talk to whoever their child feels most comfortable with. The most important thing is that the child knows they can talk to someone.

It is just as important for parents/carers to talk to boys and young men about Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). Boys and young men may be perpetrators, victims, bystanders, friends of people who are impacted by VAWG.

It is very hard for a parent/carer to think that their own child is a bully or abuser but starting the conversation is vital. It is important that parents/carers do not ignore signs of perpetration,  and seek support when they are concerned. Boys and young men may also be experiencing abuse within their own relationships, forced marriage, sexual violence and other forms of VAWG, parents/carers can let them know that they can talk to them about this.

These can be difficult conversations to have, but it is worth the effort…

  • Check out the parents workshop section for more information.
  • For more advice on how parents can listen and talk about Teenage Relationship Abuse read this.
  • For more advice on how parents/carers can listen and talk about healthy relationships read this.
  • For more advice on how parents/carers can listen and talk to their sons about sexual violence read this.

References:

  1. Populus (2008) Populus interviewed 580 children aged 11–14, and 535 parents of children aged 11–14, online between 9 and 12 June 2008. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. The full report is no longer available online, however selected findings are published in Naik, A (2008) Everyday Conversations, Every Day. London: Parents Centre/Department for Children, Schools and Families
  2. Populus (2008) 
  3. Turnball, T, Van Wersh, A and Van Schaik, P (2008) ‘A review of parental involvement in sex education: The role for effective communication in British families’, Health Education Journal, 67, 3
  4. Populus (2008)
  5. Ofsted (2002) Sex and Relationships. Northants: Ofsted.