CHURCH-BASED parent-and-toddler groups are having a significant
impact on the lives of the children and parents who attend, as well
as on the group leaders, the first detailed report to examine their
influence suggests. Such groups also directly lead to church
The report, The Impact of Church-based Parent and
Toddler Groups, estimates that up to 27,000 churches in
the UK run parent-and-toddler groups, which are used by 52 per cent
of children. Churches' involvement in organising groups for parents
and carers was last year second only to churches' involvement in
food-distribution schemes, such as foodbanks.
The research, carried out by the charity Jubilee plus, included
a survey of 440 group leaders and 30 parents. It found that the
greatest impact toddler groups have is in building friendships and
improving children's early social skills.
Eighty-eight per cent of groups reported that parents and carers
acquired a friendship support network through the group; 88 per
cent reported that children built friendships; and 86 per cent that
they acquired social skills. Some 79 per cent reported that team
members also built friendships with parents.
Attending a group also lowered stress levels for parents and
carers of young children, particularly those who felt isolated. And
87 per cent of those helping to run a group reported a greater
sense of personal well-being as a result of their involvement.
Those toddler groups that were supported by prayer reported a
greater impact in all areas. Just over a quarter of the groups also
said that they included a prayer-time in activities with parents
It also found that, although in some cases the effects were
small, toddler groups were having an evangelistic impact, leading
to some parents' and families' joining the church. Groups set up
specifically to target those normally on the fringes of communities
(because of race, or financial status, or gender) had more impact
than groups that served anyone in the community.
The report recommends that churches that want to make the
greatest impact should find where there is the most need, and set
up a new group with trained volunteers.
"Churches who do so can expect growth in the capability and
outward focus of its people, as well as in the scope for making
connection with their community, and increasing the opportunity to
connect people with other worthwhile activities that the church
"Such growth might not be numerically spectacular, but is likely
to be of immense value."
One of the report's authors, Andy Biggs, said that, while
everyone recognised the value of church-run toddler groups, being
"intentional" about the way they were run, including being part of
the church's vision, and having the support of the leadership, made
a big difference to the impact that the group was able to have.
"While government initiatives wax and wane, the Church remains.
There is huge value to the work the Church does in this area for
society, as well as for churches themselves, and we urge churches
to make sure their local authorities recognise what they are