What is parent participation?
Bristol Parent Carers is a new Parent Carer Organisation run by parents, with help from two support agencies (The Carers' Support Centre, and Supportive Parents). It provides a voice for families of children and young people with disabilities and special needs so they can shape the services provided by local authorities. Its aim is to become the contact point for any organisation wishing to obtain the opinions of parent carers in Bristol.
Bristol Parent Carers plans to organise two events each year (eg: conference, fun-day, open meeting) - in Spring and Autumn. These events enable parent carers to regularly identify key burning issues about the local authority services provided for families, make suggestions for improvements, and hear about the changes made.
Between each event, Focus Groups work on the issues raised. Each focus group is made up of interested parents and professionals. The number of meetings required depends on the amount of work needed. If local authorities want to consult on a specific project or grant, a 'one-off' focus group can be set up.
The Bristol Parent Carers' website is the key source of information throughout the year for progress with the parent participation process. Through forums and message boards it enables parent carers who do, and those who do not, attend the events to find out what is happening, and to add their voice.
Bristol Parent Carers is run by a Steering Group. It organises and runs the parent participation website and events, but does not set the agenda of the focus groups. This Steering Group consists of parent carers and meets regularly. Key stakeholders from a wide range of organisations can be invited to attend.
Strengths of the model
- The system is parent-led - parent carers set the agenda.
- Parent carers' voices are heard through events, focus groups and a website - an open, inclusive system which reaches out to as many families as possible through a variety of channels.
- The events and focus groups create a 'Catherine Wheel' effect - parents regularly see change driven by their views and experiences, and word of mouth encourages increased parental involvements.
- The events and focus groups provide an environment which: promotes greater understanding between parents and professionals about the challenges of accessing current services, offers solutions based on clear feedback and collaboration.
- Rather than individual parents being asked to join meetings of local authority Boards / departments / partnerships, professionals are invited to join focus groups to obtain a variety of parents opinions and to negotiate and plan with them.
- More efficient use is made of parent' time. A long=term ongoing commitment, which is difficult for many parents, is not required - steering group members and focus group members will change regularly. Opinions can be sought and discussions take place without the need to attend meetings. Parents can choose what they want to get involved in, how and when. This promotes involvement from a wider range of parent carers.
- A small group of parents do not become the driving force, nor become responsible for representing the views of the wider population of parents.
- Bristol Parent Carers becomes the contact point for professionals and other agencies who wish to obtain the views or input of parent carers in Bristol.