Parenting support in Flanders
EXPOO is the Flemish Government’s expert centre for parenting support.
The decree on the organisation of parenting support in Flanders provides for the establishment of such a centre under the umbrella of the agency of 'Child and Family' and is the result of a co-operation agreement between the agencies of Youth Welfare and 'Child and Family'.
EXPOO wishes to provide practical assistance to the field of parenting support and to this end collects, enhances and disseminates the relevant knowledge and know-how on parenting support.
EXPOO is set up as a demand based open network that benefits from the input of relevant partners. Indeed, Flanders has quite some expertise to offer when it comes to parenting support. EXPOO wishes to be a forum within which this expertise can continue to grow.
Under the provisions of the decree, the tasks of EXPOO are:
- to develop basic information on childcare for different ages and to also contribute such basic information to parenting support consultation at local level and to education shops,
- to devise and disseminate textual and audio-visual materials,
- to develop and maintain a digital platform on parenting for different ages, in co-operation with education shops,
- to offer a telephone service in co-operation with one or several relevant partners,
- to build up a documentation and information centre,
- to ensure the continual monitoring of Flemish and international scientific research,
- to develop and disseminate parenting support methods,
- to organise education and continued training for local co-ordinators,
- to draw up a manual to be made available to local consultation on parenting support,
- to organise training sessions for professionals,
- to process the available data collection and report to the Flemish Government.
The word 'parenting support' would appear to be self-explanatory: to provide support to the upbringing of children and young people.
All parents at times have questions on the bringing up of their children. Often parents find their questions answered by the people around them: by grandparents, friends and acquaintances, at the school gate,...Alongside such informal support there is also ‘organised parenting support’. On a daily basis a great many parenting support workers are busy to support parents in varying childcare situations.
In Flanders a decree has been in force since July, 2007, to regulate the organisation of parenting support. This decree specifies parenting support as the ‘easily accessible, basic support to parents and persons with childrearing responsibilities in the upbringing of children’.
In the first instance, parenting support is for anyone who takes charge of children and young people. All parental figures, parents, grandparents and family members are therefore included.Parenting support is furthermore also aimed at specific groups, such as socially vulnerable families, one-parent families, newly set-up families, adoptive families and so on.As parenting support is aimed at every family, we speak of parenting support also as an “enhancement” for families who are not experiencing any problems.
Parenting support is aimed primarily at parents and other educators with the following objectives:
- to reinforce the competence, skills and ability of parents,
- to reduce the load of their task by early identification of problem issues and providing practical help or support,
- to reinforce the social network for children and families.
The overall objective is to broaden the available facilities and opportunities for families, on the one hand, and to prevent (more serious) problems, on the other hand.
By supporting parents in simple issues we aim to enhance their independence and parenting skills, thereby making parents better equipped in the face of any (more serious) issues that might arise in the future, and limiting the need for more targeted intervention.
Points of Departure
- Accessible support: easy access, not requiring any major financial outlay, to be free from stigma, to be mindful of cultural sensitivity, …
- To be demand oriented and participatory: based on parents’ questions and needs.
- Customised support: to take seriously any childcare question and to provide an appropriate response.
- Empowerment : to recognise parents’ knowledge and encouraging them to look for suitable solutions to their individual situation.
The functions of parenting support:
- Information and advice
- Practical pedagogic or instrumental support
- Emotional support
- Social support, promoting social cohesion and self-help
- highlighting, early identification and referral,
- pedagogic advice and simple peripatetic support
- more intensive, easily accessible help
The seed for Flemish Parenting Support Policy was sown in 2001 in the form of the decree of 19 January, 2001, and providing for the establishment of initiatives around parenting support. In 2007 a new Parenting Support Decree is written down. It gives the Flemish parenting support landscape a breath of fresh air.
Now the Flemish Government is working on a new legislative Act concerning the organisation of preventive family support. In this Act, the international model of family centres is put forward and adapted to the specificity of the Flemish context.
The decree of 2007 shapes parenting support in different ways :
- At local level and beyond,
- via parenting shops,
- by means of Flemish parenting support co-ordinators
- Provincial parenting support centres
- the Flemish expert centre for parenting support (EXPOO)
The decree proposes to set up parenting support at local level by means of local parenting support consultation. Such local consultation takes place at the level of the local authority, facilitated by a local parenting support co-ordinator, and has the following tasks:
- to establish a parenting support section in the local social policy plan,
- to develop parenting support initiatives by co-ordination and co-operation,
- to ensure the provision of information and sensitisation in respect of parenting support and early identification of uncertainty or problem issues where parenting is concerned,
- to co-operate in the co-ordination of parenting support beyond local level.
This decree recognised the need for a parenting shop in each central Flemish town as well as in Brussels. The resultant 14 parenting shops were created by a co-operative effort and have eight objectives:
- to provide basic information,
- to respond to general parenting queries,
- to offer pedagogic advice on specific parenting issues,
- to encourage interaction, emphasising the need for social networks and making parenting a topic for discussion,
- to make information, educational or training initiatives accessible to those responsible for parenting,
- to offer support in parenting issues, both at family and group level,
- to ensure early identification of any uncertainty in issues of parenting,
- to ensure the co-ordinated, systematic and quantitative collection of data.
As it is not possible to develop a broad spectrum of parenting support initiatives in every local authority, the decree provides for the establishment of networks across authorities. The idea is that the pedagogic counselling function in its various forms is taken up from these networks. The Flemish parenting support co-ordinators are the ones to co-ordinate such cross community networks.
The Flemish parenting support co-ordinators are part of the Flemish Government and their task is threefold:
- to support local authorities in setting up a parenting support consultation at local level,
- to support the co-operative associations that implement the parenting shops,
- to co-ordinate parenting support consultation across local authorities.
The decree provides for six provincial support centres: one in each of the provinces and one in the Brussels metropolitan district. The task of the support centres in co-operation with the Flemish parenting support co-ordinators is:
- to facilitate parenting support across local authorities or regionally,
- to enable parenting support initiatives to be set up outside the main cities
- to compile standards of good practice and to enable the sharing of experience.
The support centres furthermore also have the task, in consultation with EXPOO, to co-operate in the dissemination of information and materials at provincial level to anyone involved in parenting as a professional or on a voluntary basis.