CHURCHES and charities must work harder to “overcome cultural barriers” to reach the 90 per cent of parents in the UK who say that they would not turn to them for parental support, Ross Hendry, the chief executive of Spurgeons, which published the data, has said.
The Parent Report, released on Wednesday to mark the 150th anniversary of the Christian children’s charity, is based on an online YouGov survey of 1842 parents of children under 18. It suggests that only one in ten parents would look beyond families and friends for support.
“Their anxieties have nowhere to be rooted or grounded,” Mr Hendry said. “We need to be better at publicising who we are, what we stand for, and what we can achieve with the parents and their children, as well as to make sure we are not presenting ourselves as being judgemental or critical, but supportive and empowering.”
The challenge is the same for churches, he says. “People think that churches are only there for a Sunday service; or, if parents go to a group hosted or held in a church, they may be concerned about being judged. The challenge, as it is for us, is for the parents to know that we have open doors; we are there, welcoming, to be supportive and empowering.”
The most common anxieties among the parents surveyed were that their child or children were unhappy or being bullied (46 per cent), or were having problems at school (39 per cent). “Bullying has always been a concern for parents,” the report says, “but it is clear that they also have a wider worry about their children’s self-esteem and emotional well-being in a society where they are increasingly under pressure to live up to a perfect ideal.”
Less common was the fear of 20 per cent of younger parents (aged 16 to 24) that their children might self-harm or attempt suicide in the future. “Issues like bullying are perennial,” Mr Hendry said. “But what initially looks like a small proportion of parents who voice concerns about self-harm or suicide, is actually significant.”
The report suggests that the “increased prominence” of issues such as bullying, substance misuse, and child sexual abuse and exploitation, in the media and social networks, may be a factor.
Premature or unnecessary diagnoses should also be considered, Mr Hendry said. “We are better at identifying, diagnosing, and beginning to deal with these issues than before. But sometimes parents may fear that their child has depression, when they may be going through a period of difficulty and hardship that does not necessarily equate to mental illness.”
The report suggests that more than 40 per cent of parents do not feel supported by the state, community, or voluntary services, in facing family challenges such as divorce. The concern was highest among parents who were separated or divorced (56 per cent). Only a third of parents (34 per cent) had ever used a support group or social-care service for their children.
“When you are alone,” Mr Hendry said, “you can think that your child is going through a unique set of experiences; but the more you can talk to peers, friends, and professionals, the more you can realise that these are actually quite common issues.”
One of the powerful findings of the report, he said, was that more parents were concerned that their children were fulfilled in life (62 per cent) than that their children would earn a good wage (17 per cent) or own their own home (8 per cent).
“Contrary to policy makers, parents are saying that their ambition is for their children to lead fulfilling lives, to be happy and healthy, and to care for others. Both Spurgeons and the wider Church have an amazing story to tell about how we can help people to flourish into those outcomes to fulfil those potentials, and not to see people as economic beings.”