Effective engagement with parents and carers

March 2013

The success of most childhood accident prevention programmes will depend upon how effective those delivering the programme are at engaging with parents and carers. This section covers barriers to parental engagement in child safety issues and the approaches to engagement that are proven to work.

Barriers to engagement

For parents, keeping their children safe is a very high priority, so engagement might seem like an easy task – but the reality is much more complex. Practitioners must understand and navigate a range of barriers that can hold people back from fully engaging with child safety. These barriers include:

  • holding conflicting views about accident prevention, for example worrying about serious accidents, but feeling there’s nothing you can do to stop them happening
  • feeling that taking action on child safety is too time-consuming
  • not being able to read or understand printed resources and advice
  • not understanding the real safety risks for their child, or not realising how serious the consequences could be
  • being taken by surprise by the next stage in their child’s development.

Our topic briefing on engaging with parents and carers includes more detail about each of these barriers along with research findings to support each one.

Effective engagement approaches

Our topic briefing on engaging with parents and carers highlights key messages which you can work into child accident prevention programmes to address the barriers outlined above – things like ‘build small steps to safety into your everyday routine so that they become second nature’.

The briefing also describes a range of approaches which can increase the likelihood of parents and carers remembering the child safety information you’re giving to them and then acting upon it. These approaches include:

  • using a warm, non-judgemental tone of voice with everyday language
  • engaging with parents in their own homes
  • reinforcing safety messages at every opportunity, to make every contact count
  • presenting information from the child’s perspective
  • taking interactive approaches to learning, for example through involving parents in discussions and problem-solving.

Examples of effective engagement

Family Nurse Partnership

The Family Nurse Partnership programme offers intensive and structured home visiting for vulnerable and young first-time mothers, from early pregnancy until the child reaches two years old. Family nurses recognise and build on the strengths and talents that young parents possess to improve their child’s and their own outcomes. Family nurses use motivational interviewing and work intensively with parents to improve their parenting skills, confidence and personal aspirations. How to prevent childhood accidents is one of the topics covered in the programme.

Research from the USA, where the programme was developed, has shown that it successfully reduces childhood injuries. The evaluation of the first three years of the UK programme includes the following quote from a family nurse:

“One of the biggest things is…this anticipation awareness…that is a lot to do with going in all the time and getting them to think what they are doing, tell you what the child is doing, and what accidents they might have, and what might happen next…that looking forward business…to me that’s one of the biggest outcomes.”1

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly PCT – dads’ packs

Accident prevention co-ordinator Beth Beynon led a project to create a new ‘Dads’ Pack’ to provide all first-time fathers in the county with information about how to care for their baby. This includes how to keep their baby safe from accidental injury and, in particular, the dangers of rough play and shaking. The pack highlights important aspects of child development such as babies having weak necks and that it’s a normal part of any baby’s healthy development to cry inconsolably for long periods. The packs were developed in response to feedback from dads, who said they wanted support with preparing for their new role but don’t always know where to find information or who to ask for advice. Some dads felt marginalised because information and advice tends to be targeted at mums during pregnancy and immediately following the birth

The PCT commissioned voluntary sector partners Inspire Cornwall CIC to work with them on developing the pack because of their specialist knowledge and skills in working with local fathers. A critical success factor was to involve local fathers at every key stage of the project. The team used focus groups and questionnaires to find out dads’ views and desires for ‘their’ pack. The team then used this information when developing the pack, to make sure it met the specific parenting needs of men and is presented in a style and format that appeals to them.

The packs contain information cards on 15 topics that dads wanted more information about, such as changing nappies, holding a baby, child development and legal advice. The feedback from fathers highlighted they wanted very direct messages with minimal text, so the information cards feature lots of graphics including step-by-step illustrations. Each pack comes in a sports-style bag which also includes a wristband, foldable changing mat, heat sensitive spoon and a bib in the style of a Cornish rugby shirt. As well as providing practical parenting advice, the pack aims to make dads feel valued in their new role and demonstrate the important part they play in their child’s long-term health and wellbeing.

Picture of Safety booklets

CAPT’s picture-based booklets explain essential child safety messages using pictures. They’re suitable for all parents and carers but especially those with low literacy and those for whom English is a second language.

Related links

Making the Link

Notes on this article

  1. See The Family Nurse Partnership in England – Third Year Report for an overview of research from the USA as well as an evaluation of the programme in England.
Updated June 2013