Over the last three years I have been leading some exciting research with over 20 young people to understand their experience of the Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities (SFSC) parenting programme. This work forms part of my collaborative PhD project based at the University of Sheffield. The research explores young people’s perspectives on parent-child relationships and how their parents taking part in a parenting programme has impacted their lives. Notably, the views of children and young people have been largely neglected in the conception, delivery and evaluation of these types of family interventions. Children have been overlooked as key stakeholders who can determine and equally undermine the ‘success’ of such programmes. To address this gap, I have used participatory (/co-production) research approaches to engage children and young people, with the aim of giving them a voice in this area.
In collaboration with the Together Study and SFSC practitioners, we have brought a group of young people together and have facilitated several co-production workshops. The young people involved are aged between 15-21, and their parents have completed SFSC. We began the first few sessions by explaining the components of the SFSC programme with young people, as although their parents had done the course, many had very little knowledge of the course itself. The group were really interested in the content of SFSC and appreciated that the course acknowledged different cultural backgrounds and diversity in parenting practices, as they felt this reflected their own experiences. Some participants were surprised by the widespread availability of such a programme across the country and that it can be accessed in the community. The young people were advocating early take-up of such interventions to support parents and families before the problems arise.
Our group of dynamic and interesting young people definitely gave us food for thought when it came to recommendations and improvements that could be made to the programme, to ensure the voices of young people are included in SFSC. They told us that they should be given more information when their parents start SFSC, and that better communication overall would help to improve their understanding and mitigate any worries or misconceptions about interventions for families. The young people said that having the option to be involved in SFSC alongside their parents in some way would be beneficial in developing a shared understanding of the problems and solutions. We also asked the group to review the current evaluation procedures for SFSC and decide how young people could be part of this process too. They told us that early involvement is crucial in order for them to give meaningful feedback on the programme; that they would like different options for how to give feedback; opportunities for follow-up and post-course support.
It’s been a joy to hear the insights and experiences shared by our young people, which have been both surprising and enlightening. In the coming months we will continue to work in co-production to take forward their recommendations and make adaptations to SFSC which can be piloted. The aim is that this research will contribute to new knowledge about children’s perspectives on parenting programmes (of which little is known), and methodological approaches to hearing the voices of young people in this area. Recommendations and evaluation tools produced are also likely to be applicable to other parenting programmes and family intervention models.
Beyond the research itself, this project has been a springboard to other interesting opportunities for young people to have their voices heard. Including initiatives to understand the impacts of Covid-19 on the lives of young people, and a project with the Association for Young People’s Health exploring health inequalities. Through these varied activities we have helped our young people to develop skills in communication, presenting and group work. We’ve also supported our young people to write about their involvement in these projects in a way that enhances their CV’s and UCAS applications.