6 Parental Support
6.1 This chapter explores the different sources and types of support that parents used for information and advice on parenting. It covers both formal and informal support and, alongside use of support and services, also considers satisfaction with, and attitudes towards, parenting support. The formal services considered include those specific to a particular stage of the parental journey - such as ante-natal classes - as well as those applicable to multiple ages and stages such as primary care health services and parenting websites.
- Mothers aged under 20 were less likely to have attended ante-natal classes. Attendance increases with age though there is a more significant distinction between those over and under 25 than between the two youngest groups.
- Overall, younger mothers were less likely to have sought out or used a range of sources of support such as the play@home booklet, ChildSmile services, or parenting classes.
- Seeking information or advice on child health is less common amongst all mothers when their child was agedsix than when they were agedtwo. However, at all age points mothers aged under 20 are least likely to have sought information or advice.
- Younger mothers, mothers aged under 20 in particular, seem more wary of seeking formal support, and less sure about who to ask for advice. In addition, a similar proportion of mothers under 20 and those aged 20-24 agreed, at multiple time points, that professionals do not offer enough advice and support. They were each more likely to agree with this than those aged 25 or older.
- Notably, whilst other mothers' attitudes towards formal support do not change while their child moves from age two to four, for mothers aged under 20 they become more negative as their child moves between these age groups
- All mothers most preferred to receive parenting information and advice in person, on a one-to-one basis. Younger mothers (aged under 25) were less likely than older mothers (aged 25 or older) to prefer receiving advice via a seminar or group and more likely to prefer informal sources such as family or friends.
- Mothers under 25 were more likely than those aged 25 or older to say that finding childcare at short-notice from family or friends would be 'very easy'. They reported greater ease with this than older mothers at all ages though differences were smaller at age six.
Ante-natal and other parenting classes
6.2 Attendance at ante-natal classes (Table 6.1, Figure 6-A) differed significantly by maternal age. The majority of mothers aged 25 and above (67%) attended all or most ante-natal classes whereas only 22% of mothers aged under 20 and 28% of mothers in their early twenties had done so.
6.3 Parents were asked whether they had attended a programme, group or seminar on child development, child behaviour, or parenting during the past 12 months. 21% of mothers aged under 20 and 24% of those in their early twenties had attended any such group or seminar compared with 51% of mothers aged 25 and over (Table 6.2). The most popular parenting programme across all age groups was baby massage. This was attended by 42% of mothers aged over 25, 16% of mothers aged under 20 and 17% of mothers in their early twenties.
Contact with Health Visitor and other sources used for advice
6.4 Mothers were most likely to say that they had seen or spoken to their health visitor once a week (30%) during the first three months after the child's birth followed by two or three times a month (23%). Whilst there were some small differences in frequency of contact according to maternal age, these were not statistically significant (Table 6.3).
6.5 As well as attending parenting classes, older mothers were also more likely to have accessed information or support from selected Government sponsored formal parenting resources such as the Play, Talk, Read website or the Childcare Link website and phone line (Table 6.4). Mothers aged under 20 were less likely to have used all of the listed sources of information and advice. For example, 15% of mothers aged under 20 reported having used the Play, Talk, Read website or play@home booklets compared with 30% of mothers aged 25 and over.
6.6 Parents were also asked to choose one preferred method for receiving parenting advice and support. As shown in Table 6.5, receiving advice on a one-to-one basis from either a health visitor or from a friend or family member were the most preferred methods for mothers in all age groups. However, mothers aged under 20 were more likely than older mothers to prefer these methods. For example, 58% of mothers aged under 20 said they preferred to receive parenting advice on a one-to-one basis from a health visitor compared with 48% of mothers aged 25 or older. In contrast, mothers aged 25 or older were more likely than mothers aged under 20 to prefer consulting books (8% compared with 4%) or websites (11% compared with 4%), or to attend seminars or groups (7% compared with 1%).
Sources of information on child health and behaviour
6.7 When the child was aged two and four, mothers in the older cohort were asked to identify which sources they had used in the last year to obtain information on child health (Table 6.6). Younger mothers were less likely than older mothers to have sought advice at both age points though the gap between the two decreased over time. At age two, 24% of mothers aged under 20 had not sought any such advice compared with 10% of mothers aged 25 or older. The proportion not using any source of information increased over time for all age groups. At age four, 32% of mothers aged under 20 and 23% of those aged 25 and over said they had not sought any child health information.
6.8 Most mothers had used their GP or family doctor as a source of advice. Though use increased with age mothers aged under 20 were less likely to have done so than older mothers were, at each age. For example, at age two, 79% of older mothers said they had spoken to their GP about the child's health compared with 62% of mothers aged under 20. In fact, mothers aged under 20 were particularly less likely than those aged 25 or older to have used any of a range of more 'formal' sources. As well as GPs, they also reported lower use of books and leaflets, the internet, and NHS 24.
6.9 When the child was aged two, mothers in their early twenties were also less likely than those aged 25 or older to use formal services although their use of these services was more common than for mothers aged under 20. When the child was aged four however, the pattern by age was less clear. Mothers aged 20 to 24 remained less likely than mothers aged 25 or older and more likely than those aged under 20 to use books or the internet, but more likely to use a GP or NHS 24 - though differences are small.
6.10 All mothers made similar use of their own parents for advice on child health when the child was aged two - 50% of mothers in their early twenties, 47% of mothers aged under 20 and 46% of older mothers. However, as the children aged, whilst use of this source declined for all mothers, a gap emerged between those under 25 and those over 25. At age 4, 33% of those aged 25 or older cited this source compared with around 40% of those under 20 and 39% of those aged 20 to 24.
6.11 Older mothers were, however, more likely to rely on other sources of informal advice - such as their partners parents (e.g. 20% amongst mothers aged 25 or older compared with 9% of mothers aged under 20 at age two) and other families (32% of mothers aged 25 or older at age 2 compared with 10% of those aged under 20).
6.12 When the child was aged two and three, parents were similarly asked what sources they had used for information on the child's behaviour (Table 6.7). Most mothers, but especially those aged under 20, had not sought any such advice and had therefore used none of the sources. For example, when the child was aged two, 60% of mothers aged under 20 had not used any sources for information on the child's behaviour compared with 52% of those in their early twenties and 53% aged 25 and over. The proportion accessing this sort of information had increased very slightly for all age groups by age 3 and differences by maternal age remained.
6.13 Most of those who had sought advice on their child's behaviour had relied on informal sources. At ages two and three, a very similar proportion of mothers in the under 20 and 25 or older age groups (around 25% at both ages) reported using their own parents. This was slightly higher amongst those in their early twenties (32% at ages two and four). As in relation to advice on child health, older mothers were more likely to speak to other families and to have used books and the internet.
Services and individuals child had seen
6.14 At ages two and four, mothers were asked about the types of services or individuals - such as a GP or Health Visitor - the child had visited or been seen by in the past year (Table 6.8). Reflecting the data seen already on sources used for information on child health, the vast majority of all mothers (89%) had taken their child to the doctor at age two. Only a slightly greater proportion of older mothers than mothers aged under 20 had done so (90% compared with 86%). Visits to the GP were less common for all at age four and patterns were virtually identical according to maternal age.
6.15 A greater proportion of mothers aged under 20 had seen their health visitor at both age points (69% and 41% for mothers aged under 20 at ages two and four respectively, compared with 62% and 32% for mothers in their early twenties and those aged 25 or older).
6.16 Whilst just 2-3% of all mothers had seen a social worker when the child was aged two and four, this was higher for mothers aged under 20 than for those in both groups over 20 (7% and 8% amongst mothers aged under 20 compared with 2-3% for those aged 20-24 and 1% for those aged 25 or older). Mothers in the oldest group, on the other hand, were more likely than those under 20 to report having seen some 'other professional' whilst those in the 20 to 24 age group fell in between - being more likely than mothers under 20 to have used an 'other professional' and less likely than those aged 25 or older to do so. The proportion reporting this contact increased for all mothers between ages two and four. Whilst this increase was only small for those aged 25 or older (from 54% to 57%), for younger mothers - particularly those under 20 - it was larger, rising from 30% to 45% for those under 20 and 42% to 50% for those aged 20 to 24.
Attitudes to receiving support and services
6.17 When the child was aged 10 months, mothers were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the following statements on attitudes to engaging with parenting advice and support
- "If you ask for help or advice on parenting from professionals like doctors or social workers, they start interfering or trying to take over"
- "Professionals like health visitors and social workers do not offers parents enough advice and support with bringing up their children"
- "If other people knew you were getting professional advice or support with parenting, they would probably think you were a bad parent"
- "It's difficult to ask people for help or advice unless you know them really well."
- "It's hard to know who to ask for help or advice about being a parent."
6.18 The percentage of mothers in each age group who agreed or strongly agreed with each statement is shown in Table 6.9. The data indicate that mothers aged under 20 were more likely than older mothers to have negative attitudes towards support. The largest difference between age groups was in how difficult mothers felt it was to ask for help or advice. 42% of mothers aged under 20 agreed that it was difficult to do this, more than double the 19% who agreed amongst mothers aged 25 or older. In addition, mothers aged under 20 were more likely to perceive some stigma related to getting formal parental advice. 30% agreed that if other people knew you were getting professional advice they would probably think you were a bad parent - significantly higher than the 9% of mothers aged 25 and over who felt the same. Younger mothers were also more likely to be wary of interference from formal agencies. 24% of mothers aged under 20 agreed that asking for help from professionals might lead to interference in family life compared with 14% of those in their early twenties and just 6% of mothers in the oldest group.
6.19 Agreement and disagreement with the first three statements was also measured at ages two and four with the older cohort. The more negative attitudes to support amongst younger mothers are also evident in these data and there is an increase in negative perceptions over time (Table 6.10). For example, perceptions of a negative stigma associated with receiving parenting support increased amongst younger mothers as the child aged (Figure 6-A). At age two, 29% of mothers aged under 20 agreed that getting advice or support makes you a bad parent increasing to 38% at age four. In contrast, attitudes of older mothers remained similar - for example, 17% of those aged 25 or older were in agreement with this at age two and 19% at age four.
Figure 6-A % of mothers who agreed with the statement "If other people knew you were getting professional advice or support with parenting, they would think you were a bad parent" when child was aged 2 and 4, by maternal age at child's birth
6.20 Whilst the proportion of mothers aged under 20 who agreed that support can lead to interference in family life was higher than for older mothers, this did not change over time. At ages two and four, 21% of mothers aged under 20 agreed that social workers interfere and try to take over compared with 4% of mothers aged 25 or older.
6.21 Perceptions of the availability of support were most similar across the age groups though mothers aged under 20 maintained more negative views. Notably, however, mothers in their early twenties held very similar views. At age two, 22% of those aged under 20 and 21% of those aged 20-24 agreed that there was not enough advice or support with parenting from professionals compared with 15% of mothers aged 25 or older. Attitudes became very slightly more positive over time, for all mothers, but the difference by maternal age and the similarities between views amongst mothers in the two younger groups, remained.
Figure 6-B % of mothers who agreed with the statement "Professionals like health visitors and social workers do not offer parents enough advice and support with bringing up their children" when child was aged 2 and 4, by maternal age at child's birth
Availability of informal support
6.22 To get some measure of parents' access to informal support, when the child was 10 months old, mothers were asked how easy or difficult it would be to find someone to look after their child for a couple of hours during the day at short notice. Table 6.11 shows that 85% of mothers aged under 20 claimed that it would be easy or very easy to find someone to look after the child, compared with 74% of mothers in their late twenties and above. This finding reflects, most likely, the different living circumstances of mothers aged under 20 compared with older mothers. Being more likely to live in a household with a grandparent of the child, younger mothers have readier access to this sort of ad-hoc childcare support.
6.23 Arranging short notice care for the child during the day was also easier for mothers aged under 20 when the child was aged two. For example, just 13% of claimed it would be fairly or very difficult to find someone to look after the child for a short time compared with 19% of mothers aged 25 and above (Table 6.12). Beyond age two, however, there were no significant differences found by maternal age.
6.24 Ease of arranging overnight care was also asked at ages two and four. This was more difficult for all mothers, but mothers aged under 20 reported less difficulty, at all age points, than did older mothers (Table 6.14). However, as with care during the day, perceptions of how easy it was to arrange overnight care was more similar across the maternal age groups when the child was aged four than at age two. 68% of mothers aged under 20 and 62% of mothers aged 25 or older said arranging overnight care was very or fairly easy at age two. At age four, the corresponding figures were 64% and 63%.
6.25 At ages two and four, parents were also asked who they would most likely call on for help in these situations. Table 6.15 shows that the people whom mothers relied on most were relatively similar across the years. At age two, 72% of mothers aged under 20 said that they would call on their mother or father, compared with slightly fewer mothers in their early twenties (68%) and fewer again amongst those aged 25 years and above (57%).
6.26 These data also illustrate how the differences in marital and relationship status by maternal age impact on potential sources of informal support. For example, older mothers were much more likely than younger mothers to cite a parent-in-law; being more likely to be married, older mothers were also more likely to have such a person available in the first place. In contrast, mothers aged under 20 - being more likely than older mothers to have recently separated from a partner - were also more likely to say they would call on a former spouse or partner.
6.27 Mothers aged 25 and over were also more likely than younger mothers to claim that they would call on a friend for help. 9% cited this source at age two compared with 4% of mothers aged under 20.
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