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Bangor Academic backs Young Parents.

From headlines on pre-teen fathers to pervasive beliefs about benefit and housing claims, young parenthood has come to be seen as a risk for society. A recent Bangor research study on the ‘Rhieni Ifanc Ni’ project run by GISDA across North West Wales, challenges those views.

The Rhieni Ifanc Ni project provided individual support to over 100 parents aged under 25, most of whom were mothers. Its primary aim was to build parents’ resilience. Aspects of this included promoting economic inclusion through supporting parents to gain relevant qualifications, supporting family and co-parent relationships and enabling parents to form networks with other parents.

Bangor University undertook a year-long study of parents’ experiences of ‘building resilience’.  The study was led by Dr. Myfanwy Davies and was undertaken by Karen Wyn Jones and Elin Williams in the School of Social Sciences.

It found that parents’ perceptions and ambitions for parenthood were strikingly similar to those of older parents.

Parents sought to develop calm and supportive relationships with their children. These were distinguished from their positive recollections of their own childhoods based around the locality (bro), risk-taking and relationships with siblings and cousins.  Parents reported that they felt stigmatised in communities where young parenthood is rare and is visible. They also reported that access to transport and transport costs added to their isolation. Practical and inexpensive interventions by the project brought parents together and enabled them to be with their children in a less pressured environment than the home. Being able to share accounts and offer support to other parents was particularly valued and parents felt proud of their achievements only after having shared them.  Individual support from peer-mentors who had themselves been young parents was particularly valued.

The return to work or study was seen as problematic by some where it was seen as involving a tension with the central place of the child in their lives. For many however, work was valued particularly as it was seen to provide an example for the children to follow.  Building resilience was seen in terms of confidence and coping. It was seen in terms of a life-history of childhood difficulties and stigmas but was also understood as a set of skills learnt through the project, such as accessing and managing information and support to mitigate the effects of low-income and rural isolation.

Dr Davies, the research lead said:

“The results give the lie to the idea of young parents as being a group apart. While for most of them, entering parenthood had been a shock, their perceptions and ambitions for parenthood were strikingly similar to those of older parents

For these young people, the transition to parenthood is a crucial point at which their trajectories may change. In Gwynedd, young parents are likely to be isolated both socially and geographically and may well find the experience overwhelming. In conditions like these, children may not get the support they need which may lead to a range of poor outcomes including academic underachievement and in some cases youth justice costs. By intervening to support parents in very simple ways, sometimes only by organising transport and an opportunity to meet other parents and share accounts, the project supported their transition to be confident parents and will in all probability lead to better outcomes for their children. In many cases, parents who met through the project at the outset, still continue to support each other.

This project was unique in providing support in a rural community and being able to do so bilingually. Because it was lottery funded, it is coming to an end and will not be able to be funded in the same way. We know it delivered the changes it promised at a very small cost and it does seem unjust that that invaluable support during the key transition in young parents’ lives, will no longer be available.”

In-depth exploration of the Rhieni ifanc Ni project and the research undertaken in Bangor aired on S4C’s current affairs programme Byd ar Bedwar last night. Dr Davies will also discuss the research on ITV news tonight (29/03). 

Publication date: 29 March 2017