Local Research & Actions to Support Parents with SRE

Parents' and carers' need for support with sex and relationships education (SRE) at home was highlighted by the 'Everyday Conversations Every Day' report published in 2008 (Naik). The report found that many parents wish to talk more to their children about sex and relationships but fear and embarrassment are huge barriers.

Findings from the Naik report chimed with local experiences in Bristol. The teenage pregnancy and sexual health team in Bristol were eager to get a better understanding of parents' views locally on SRE and also identify practical actions that could support parents.

Research was carried out by interviewing 500 parents or guardians of children aged 13-17 by telephone.  Parents were asked first to reflect on where they got their own information about sex and relationships. School or college (56%) was the most common source and 29% had got information from their own parents.

Today, a generation later, 71% of parents said that their own children are getting information from school - and 41% said they are getting information from themselves; their parents. However, almost twice as many parents (77%) said their children should be getting information from their parents. It was not clear how often this happened in practice - but intentions were certainly clear: sex and relationships are topics that the majority of parents (86% and 90% of parents respectively) either had already spoken to their child about or are planning to.  A barrier identified by many parents was their perception that their child did not want to talk to them about sex and relationships.

Parents were also asked about the type of support they would like. From a list of options they chose in order of preference: leaflets, an internet site for Bristol parents, books, 1-2-1 face-to-face advice, a helpline, parent support groups and CDs. 

Findings from the research were widely publicised through local and national media- helping to raise awareness of the views of parents across the city and beyond.  Three key actions were then taken forward by the teenage pregnancy and sexual health team. Firstly, a leaflet was produced with top tips for parents. This was distributed to pharmacies, GPs, clinics and school receptions. Boxes of the leaflets were also sent to personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education leads in secondary schools with the suggestion of giving the leaflets to parents together with a school letter about SRE provision.

The top tips leaflet can also be downloaded from the '4YP Bristol' web-site - which has a new dedicated section for parents. The web-site also provides suggestions about books parents might want to use and information about commonly asked questions about sex and relationships at each stage of a child's development

The third part of the support arising from the local research is face-to-face advice for parents. This has been developed through building workforce capacity to support parents. Facilitator training has been provided for a range of professionals including learning mentors, children's centre staff, family support and intervention workers and basic skills workers. These professionals have been trained to facilitate the FPA Speakeasy programme, which is a face-to-face course for parents run in small groups. 

The development of the leaflet, web-site and face-to-face support all respond to the preferences identified by parents in the research. However, an area yet to be developed is bespoke support for fathers. The difference between mothers and fathers experiences and views was a cross-cutting theme in the research. To start with, more fathers than mothers refused to participate in the telephone research - explaining that the mother would be better placed to answer the questions. Dads were less likely than mothers to have got information about sex and relationships from their own parents, and were more likely than females to say there was 'nothing' that could support them to talk to their children.

Parents showed a high level of support for the role of schools in providing SRE but also see an important role for themselves. Collaboration between schools and parents will be another means to promote communication. A homework tool which includes activities that can be initiated in SRE at school and followed up at home with parents, siblings or other family members is now under development.

For more information contact:  Jess Dicken, Parent Lead for the teenage pregnancy and sexual health team, NHS Bristol, Email: jess.dicken@bristol.nhs.uk

….and visit www.4YPbristol.co.uk

Naik, A. (2008) Everyday Conversations, Every Day. London: Parents Centre/Department for Children, Schools and Families. 66pp.

NHS Bristol (2009) Parent attitudes to teenage sexual health, pregnancy and sex and relationships education; Telephone interviews, MSS Research (Project number MR4689)


NHS Bristol (2009) Top tips.