12 March 2014

Researchers at Linköping University have investigated municipal parent-support measures and how they are experienced, particularly by parents with a non-Swedish background.
The study was carried out in multicultural and vulnerable housing areas where the municipality provides parents with various kinds of support. It is part of the “Parent support and multicultural interaction” project that researchers at the Department of Child Studies carried out with the support of the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

The parent-support programmes that were developed in other countries and translated into Swedish have been widely disseminated in Sweden. In one sub-project, the researchers looked at how the Canadian programme COPE (Community Parent Education Program) was used in courses held in Arabic and Somali.

Could be better adapted

The evaluation shows that the programme could be better adapted to the situation and cultural background of the parents, but that it nonetheless fulfils an important function.

“Relations with their children are strengthened, the parents learn new things that help them with their lives in Sweden, and they meet other parents with similar experiences,” says Bengt Sandin, professor at the Department of Child Studies and one of the researchers on the project.

In a second sub-project, the researchers evaluated cooperation between the home and the school. This evaluation is based on interviews with both educationalists and parents in a school with pupils up to sixth grade. A large number of the teachers and parents were born abroad.

Parenting at risk of being undermined

Nearly all the parents who were interviewed were dependent on economic support, despite several years of help in finding work. They were worried about how the children were affected by the low financial levels of the family, and felt their only possibility was to support the children at school.

“Parents in newly arrived families think like middle-class Swedish parents, but they find it difficult to live up to the parental role they would like to have. Their parenting is at risk of being undermined by the economic support rules, and the physical and mental health of their children is at risk from their financial circumstances,” says Disa Bergnéhr, researcher at the Department of Child Studies.

In collaboration between home and school, the mother language education officers – the “bridge builders” – were shown to be a good support factor for teachers, children and parents. Nonetheless the teachers were asking for more scope and support from school management.

“Not all work in the school needs to be focused on the teachers. For example, parent support could involve doing more for pupil health,” Ms Bergnéhr maintains.

Development meetings important

Development meetings, which were analysed in one of the sub-projects, have an important role to play in the school’s cooperation with the parents.

“They are intended to be a forward-looking dialogue with the parents, but they tend to be monologues about the child's past performance. But the great need the parents have for information means they can still be a good support,” Professor Sandin notes.

Finally, the researchers analysed the input of Swedish-speaking parents on an internet discussion forum.

“On the internet it is possible to listen to the misgivings the parents have and to see how closely these tally with the advice they are given in different contexts. In the analysis of one thread regarding teenagers and alcohol it was especially clear that they didn’t tally,” says Professor Sandin.

The research project was carried out in close conjunction with Linköping Municipality and a network of collaborators in Östergötland who had worked with the Department of Child Studies in previous research projects.