In 2012, the United Kingdom’s Departments of Health and Education released a report called Supporting Families in the Foundation Years. The report aimed to provide a framework of services for families, from pregnancy to child’s age five, to promote achievement and social and emotional well-being as adults. With support from the WAVE Trust, an addendum entitled Conception to age 2 – the age of opportunity has been published. Both reports stress the importance of the early years in laying the foundation for healthy productive adult lives. The recent report focuses on services offered prenatally through the first two years of life. The new report reviews the research literature and makes a convincing case that investing in the earliest years makes for good public policy. Particularly notable, the report stresses not only health and educational outcomes, but includes mental health outcomes. It emphasizes the influence of early relationships on attachment in promoting infant mental health, which lays the foundation for health, achievement and well-being over a lifetime.
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
Fredrick Douglas, 1818-1895
The old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is an understatement when it comes to the early childhood years. That’s why I found this report’s strong focus on prevention particularly commendable. Underscoring the importance of promoting strong parent-child relationships, the report lists a range of interventions with proven track records of success. The report also recognizes there is no one-size-fits-all intervention and stresses the importance of fitting the intervention to the culture and needs of the community it serves. Furthermore, the report argues for the value of a series of both child and family assessments. “Across the time period from early pregnancy to age two these assessments are complementary, each adding information to the whole picture of offering the right level of help and support at the right level of need.”
Why Universal Parenting Assessment?
Since the earliest relationships are so important, the Conception to age 2– the age of opportunity report recommends universal assessment of parenting when children are 3 to 4 months old. The report argues that the benefits of detecting and intervening early far outweigh the costs of conducting observational assessments. The report recommends observational measures for assessing parent-child interaction, for reasons we have explored before in this blog, (see this previous post). We were pleased that the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) was one of three parenting assessment tools recommended. The recomendation was for assessment at 3 to 4 months of age. By assessing parenting early and universally, parents needing extra support can be identified and helped, while there is still time for prevention.
Using Assessment of Parenting to Meet Families’ Specific Needs
By assessing parenting universally, those parents who are functioning well receive verification, which can boost their confidence. By conducting the assessment early, we can identify and intervene during the period when attachment is forming, and before parent-child interaction problems gather momentum. With the parenting assessment information, families needing support can be directed to the most appropriate type and level of services. Specific assessment information allows the family service provider to tune in to each parent’s strengths and areas for growth and learning in nurturing their child. The report goes so far as recommending the use of parent-child interaction assessment videos in giving feedback. We have discussed giving feedback to parents and the use of video in a series of posts (See blog posts 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5). With early intervention, we can promote strong attachment, which promotes infant mental health. With a strong early foundation of relationships, the child is much more likely to grow and develop into a healthy, well-adjusted, contributing member of society. The report also recognizes the importance of staff training, not only on assessments, but also on how to use assessment information in supporting families. The real value and learning are gained from the combination of parenting assessment plus offering skilled feedback with reflection to move parents along the path toward nurturing parenting.
The authors of the report are to be commended for a comprehensive review and cogent set of recommendations that recognize:
the importance of the earliest years,
the value of prevention,
observational assessment of parenting can identify those in need of support, and
tailoring the supports to match family needs.
These elements all combine and lead to important policy recommendations. These recommendations are bold and supported by research evidence.
For more on how parenting assessment can benefit parenting services, download our paper on Nine Ways Parenting Assessment Can Power Your Program.
Learn How Parenting Assessment:
1. Documents evidence of parenting outcomes
2. Tailors services to individual parenting strengths and needs
3. Monitors progress and guides service planning
4. Reinforces parenting progress and confidence
5. Serves as a parenting check-up as children develop
6. Shifts staff focus from child to parent-child interactions
7. Offers a common language for staff, families and programs
8. Builds reflective practice during supervision
9. Informs continuous quality improvement for staff and programs