Proposal for a Paper and a Workshop by Parent Network Scotland

FACE Annual Conference 2017

Concepts of Value and Worth: Perspectives on Widening Access & Participation

The ‘Airplane Oxygen Mask Model’ of Parental Inclusion & Peer Learning

FACE Theme: Reaching In

Presenter: Jackie Tolland, National Director, Parent Network Scotland (PNS)

There is an ever-increasing recognition of parents and carers as the ‘first educators’ of young children -- and people who deserve to be ‘at the table’ for important decisions about the education, health and the wellbeing of a child or group of children. This translates into requests for, and expectations of, parental involvement by institutions and public agencies. In response, parents are more actively engaged than has traditionally been the case across Scotland. That is the good news.

The bad news is that the implementation of this well-intentioned trend to widen access has too often (even if unintentionally) actually resulted in growing inequalities and the continuing marginalisation of too many mothers, fathers and carers. Just as there has long been an unfair and unhealthy stratification (cliques) among group participants based upon inherent factors – such as social class, nationality, ethnicity or family background – so too, the gap between parents who are included and excluded has not yet closed. One reason why this has happened is because already overworked and stressed professionals tend to recruit, select and engage with those parents who are well prepared and feel comfortable to contribute from the outset.

Everyone loses when this happens. Professionals, institutions and agencies do not end up getting the breadth and depth of perspectives, lived experiences and advice from the full range of parents within their spheres of influence. The situations, potential and needs of some groups of children end up being misunderstood and/or mishandled. And, some mothers, fathers and carers do not perceive themselves as being respected or trusted.

For many years, Parent Network Scotland has worked to widen access and participation among diverse cohorts of parents who have rarely been among the favoured few. PNS’ work is based upon the same principle as oxygen masks on airplanes. In other words, PNS helps parents to get the ‘oxygen’ they need themselves first, so they can then:

feel more confident about themselves as people;

be better prepared for, and supported in, their role as mothers, fathers or carers;

gain positive experiences in helping each other and their children succeed; and,

share their new skills and attitudes to uplift the next group of parents in their community.

Most parent groups are organised either around identity (e.g. single fathers or BME mums) or an issue (e.g. parents of children with a specific disability or those against a school closure). By contrast, Parent Network Scotland helps all kinds of parents having varied interests/needs to be their best selves first; the best parents they can be next; and finally, the best facilitators/organisers/supporters they can be of other parent-to-parent learning/influencing groups.

My presentation will describe the different ways PNS has put this principle into successful practice across Scotland. The workshop will allow for in-depth exploration and interaction with FACE 2017 participants.