Connecting, learning, leaving: supporting young parents in the community


Virginia Schmied
University of Western Sydney
Locked Bag 1797
Penrith, NSW 2751


Providing support and parenting education through home visiting is a key early intervention strategy with young parents. Less is known about what home visitors do that makes a difference. The purpose of this paper is to describe the role and experiences of professional staff working with young parents participating in a multicomponent parent support programme (home visiting and supported parenting groups) provided by a non-government organisation in a socially disadvantaged area of Sydney, Australia. This was a qualitative descriptive study. Data were collected through three focus groups conducted with the same six staff over an 18-month period. Participant descriptions of their role and experiences working with young mothers were analysed thematically. Additional data from 20 anonymised client records were analysed through content analysis. Analysis of the focus group data revealed two themes, ‘Connecting’ and ‘Facilitating Learning’. The theme ‘Connecting’ reflected the development of a relationship with the young mother commencing with ‘how do we engage them?’, ‘building trust’ through to formation of a relationship described as ‘they know we’re not friends, they know we’re workers’. The second theme, ‘Facilitating Learning’ was informed by the analysis of both group and client record data and comprised a number of themes around what and how mothers learnt, through to ‘ending the relationship’ as the mothers left the programme. The quality of a mothers’ learning was dependent on the quality of the connection between herself and the staff, similarly their capacity and, or confidence to leave the programme was dependent on the relationship, ‘connecting’ and the learning undertaken. Role modelling through interactions with children as well as with each other was seen as the most effective way to facilitate social and parenting skill development, while formal education sessions were evaluated by the workers to be less successful than informal ones.