Critically discuss the barriers some parents may face in engaging with one area of children’s services. What role can practitioners play in overcoming some of these barriers?
Globally, there is a growing appreciation of the importance of engaging parents, carers and communities in working together with children’s services to improve the outcomes for children and young people. Whilst it must be accepted that the majority of parents will only want what is best for their child, there remain many barriers that potentially prevent parents from engaging with children’s services and improving their child’s chances of achieving their full potential. This essay will start by examining how the concept of different forms of capital as proposed by Bourdieu (1986) can affect parental engagement. It will focus on some of the barriers that may be faced by parents, with specific reference to fathers and ethnic minority parents, within a school setting. It will then go on to examine what practitioners can do to help overcome the barriers faced by these groups of parents. The author will draw upon studies/papers/articles from academic journals to substantiate her argument, specifically Harris and Goodall (2008), Cullen et al., (2011), Potter et al., (2013), Crozier and Davies (2005), and Meyer et al., (2011), and cite examples of practice within both her own setting and the Saltley Cluster, Birmingham. For the purposes of this essay the term parent will be taken to mean ‘mothers, fathers, carers and other adults with responsibility for caring for a child, including looked after children’ (DfES, 2006, cited in Leverett, 2014).
Children and families do not exist within a vacuum, but within a whole myriad of linked experiences and relationships. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979, cited in Stone and Foley, 2014) ecological model of child development illustrates that a child’s overall development is influenced by more than just family relationships, and includes school and the wider environment in which they live. Fostering a close and productive relationship between home and school will therefore be beneficial to children, as both practitioners and parents can work together and contribute to effectively support the child. However, all parents are different, and whilst many may have the skills and knowledge to enable them to form good relationships with teachers and practitioners within schools, there are many others who do not possess the different types of resources that make this possible. These resources are known as capitals and can be subdivided into four categories; economic capital, concerned with financial physical and material resources; human capital, concerned with skills and knowledge possessed by people usually associated with education or work; social capital, concerned with connectivity and reciprocity between individuals; and cultural capital, concerned with how to use your social capital and other qualities to achieve your goals (Leverett, 2014). Bourdieu (1986, cited in Leverett, 2014) saw that forms of capital represented ‘resources and power’ which were ‘unequally distributed amongst a population’. Having one form of capital can be used to gain another form of capital, and the ability of some parents to manipulate this results in certain groups of children receiving advantages and opportunities that are not available to all. Leverett agrees, ‘Because social capital is unequally distributed amongst groups of parents, the consequences for individual children vary considerably’ (2014). Bourdieu believed that cultural capital could be described as ‘legitimate knowledge’, i.e. knowledge that is useful within a specific context. Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, ‘the dispositions an individual has to feel, think, behave or understand the world in a particular way’ (Jenkins, 2002, cited in Leverett, 2014), and field, ‘the social arena within which struggles or manoeuvres take place over a specific resource or stakes and access to...
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