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Wednesday, 07 December 2011 10:57

Parents put off by 'Cliques' in parent and toddler groups

Research carried out by the University of Bristol found that a quarter of parents decided not to go back to a group after one visit because they found it ‘cliquey’ or did not know any of the other parents.
One in five parents in the study was described as ‘group-phobic’.
The study - funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and Barnardo's - found that rather than cost or location, the key reason which determined whether parents went to pre-school groups was how well mothers thought they would get on with others in the group.
Parents were much more likely to keep going back to a group if they were told about it by a friend or relative, than if they saw it advertised on a leaflet or a poster.
Researcher Dr Sue Jones from the university’s School for Policy Studies interviewed 30 parents from a deprived area of Bristol to find out why some parents use early years groups regularly, while others do not.
Dr Jones said that despite concern that "hard-to-reach" parents do not use early years groups, there has been little research into the social and psychological factors that influence parental attendance.
‘Going to a group can be a daunting experience, especially if a mother doesn’t know anyone there. The mother and group need to "fit" together. Mothers need to feel that others in the group are her social equals, with similar values and attitudes to childrearing. Mothers need to feel their age, social class, and their or their child’s ethnic identity will not isolate them in the group,’ she said.
Dr Jones interviewed 29 mothers and one father (the father had not attended any early years groups).
Between them, they knew of 97 early years groups and had tried two-thirds of them.
The early years groups included were those where attendance was up to parents, and not because they needed to attend for childcare reasons. They were run by both volunteers and paid staff and included mother/ parent toddler groups, baby drop-ins and playgroups.
Of the 30 children in the study, 11 of them had either never been to a group or had only been once.
However, seven mothers had been to three or more different groups and four children had been to early years groups more than 200 times.
Lacking confidence was found to be a major barrier to attendance, with even confident mothers preferring to go to groups with friends.
‘Knowing someone usually resulted in regular and enjoyable attendance, not least because it often meant the mother had someone to go with,’ the study said.
Mothers who had attended ante-natal classes before their child was born were significantly more likely to attend groups regularly and were less likely to have attended council nurseries before their child was three.
What mattered most was whether mothers ‘fitted in’ with group members.
Although only one mother used the word ‘class’, nine of them commented about 15 groups in class terms. Different mothers could describe the same group as ‘friendly’ or stuck-up’.
Mothers who had bad experiences going to a group described how they felt the group was cliquey, with other mothers ‘bitching and gossiping’, or giving them ‘dirty looks’. Seven of the mothers interviewed said that their experiences had put them off groups permanently.
Sure Start services appealed to a wider range of social groups that the others.
Fewer parents complained about Sure Start being cliquey, which Dr Jones said could be because Sure Start used early years staff to welcome newcomers, and also set up some groups to run for just six to eight weeks to give less chance for cliques to form.
Of the 42 Sure Start groups in the study, just two were described as ‘cliquey’, compared with 13 of the 55 other types of group.
The report concluded, ‘It would seem that few resources (educational, financial, mental health) balanced against high needs (large family, many problems) and an accumulation of abuse, stress and trauma can severely dent a mother’s confidence, whereas warm encouragement, pleasant group experiences and appropriate help from workers can increase it.’
What parents said
‘[I] wouldn’t go to a group where I didn’t know anyone. I can’t make conversation with people and things like that.’
‘I wouldn’t go to any groups round here…Went to one or two and they are too cliquey.’
‘At Sure Start, you’re made to feel welcome, no strings, which put everybody equal…they always used to try and buddy up new mothers and a lot of family link workers used to bring a lot of new ones in. You don’t feel you were on your own.’
‘It was terrible. I walked in and they all gave you dirty looks. Looked at [me] like I was a down and out.’
‘I am quite a sociable person really, but it’s intimidating I find, going to a group where I don’t know anybody.’
‘You have got a few rough mothers who live in this area and it seemed like they went there.