Connecting families with communities: How Housing Associations can prevent violence
Posted on Fri 27 Jun 2014
Michelle Francis is community safety team leader at Peabody, a Housing Association based in London. Here she writes about her experiences of delivering the Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities parenting course as a community development and violence prevention strategy.
Violence among children and young people has been a key issue in recent years, with concerns about gangs and gun crime matched by fears of unruly youths during the London riots. Preventing violence has become a core part of the work carried out by housing associations and, as a Community Safety Manager at Peabody, I work with residents and partners to resolve issues such as domestic abuse, hate crime, antisocial behaviour and youth crime.
Peabody is a London-based housing association with around 27,000 properties housing around 80,000 people. We provide a lot more to our residents than just bricks and mortar, offering help with employment and training, activities for young people and parenting skills.
Research shows that early intervention work with families can help prevent young people from becoming violent and disruptive. I completed the Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities (SFSC) course myself as a parent seven years ago, and learnt so much from it that I knew it could really help some of the families that I work with.
We currently offer the course course in seven London boroughs, including Hackney, Westminster and Islington and it is being delivered as part of Activate London, our wellbeing programme funded by The Big Lottery Fund. We deliver the programme to parents, carers and grandparents from lots of different backgrounds. Although some of our parents are referred to us by other agencies, many come along voluntarily because they want to learn new skills and strategies. The course is open to everyone, not just Peabody residents. We think this is really important as it connects parents and families to the communities and services around them and ensures that everyone has the support they need.
The programme helps parents to gain a better understanding of child development and encourages them to use positive discipline techniques, such as modelling. By understanding that children respond to the attention they receive, parents have been able to achieve some really positive changes in their families and avoid the problems they may have experienced in their own relationships. For example, one parent, who had been in an abusive relationship herself, had seen her own children starting to behave in a violent and antisocial ways. For her youngest, this played out through being aggressive at school. By attending SFSC, she learnt to give him her full attention (rather than always being “too busy” or angry at his behaviour) and to show him other ways to communicate his feelings. Her older child refused to join in at home or try new things. The course made her realise that she had been copying her own mother’s parenting style by “pushing him into doing things”, when he actually needed the time and space to do things at his own pace.
This is fairly common: many parents find that the approaches they have used with one child don’t necessarily work with their other children. The key to the programme is that it encourages parents to step back and look at the child as an individual. It recognises that not all children are the same and that parents will need different tools and techniques to raise their children effectively.
The Race Equality Foundation has also developed a specially adapted version of the SFSC course that supports parents to challenge gun, gang and knife crime. We have delivered this version in Islington and feedback from parents tells us that they’re finding the course very relevant and helpful.
We’ve found that after going through the programme many parents are a lot more confident, with improved motivation and communication skills. We often encourage them to go on and complete the facilitator training so that they can help us deliver the courses. We have now trained two parents who are delivering the course in their communities. A number of parent groups also continue to meet after the 13-week course and have become more involved in their communities. One group even met Iain Duncan Smith, who was really impressed with the programme. However, perhaps the greatest indication of success is that 100% of parents who have completed the programme say they’d recommend it to others.
Housing associations can and do play a crucial role in strengthening communities and preventing violence. By helping our residents build confidence in their parenting skills, we can help improve family relationships, which in turn reduce violence and antisocial behaviour.