Local Research Project to Inform Development of SRE Support for Parents

A questionnaire for parents of children at primary school about SRE has helped professionals in Derbyshire plan new ways of communicating with parents and supporting them in their SRE role.

The idea for the questionnaire originated from the Derbyshire Healthy Schools Team and the North Derbyshire School Health Service who found that many parents felt they didn't have the skills they needed to talk to their children about sex and relationships.  To make the research manageable one district with high teenage pregnancy rates was chosen.  The questionnaire was distributed to parents via eight primary schools in the area. The questionnaire was anonymous and included the following questions:

  • Have your children started to ask you any 'awkward' questions?
  • Do you sometimes find it difficult or embarrassing to answer?
  • Would you like to discuss possible answers with other parents?

The questionnaires were distributed as paper copies.  To make sure parents with communication or literacy difficulties could take part the researchers talked to parents outside the school gate and asked questions orally. This also increased participation of men and fathers in the research. In total more than 1100 parents took part. To get a deeper understanding discussion groups were held with parents from a range of backgrounds including parents of children with special needs.

Key findings from the research were that:  

  • Parents thought SRE was important
  • Less than 2% of parents stated that  their child was too young for SRE
  • 82% said children did ask them awkward questions
  • Parents did want to answer their children's questions, but were unsure of how much information to give and the vocabulary to use
  • 62% said they would like to see some simple books  to share with their child,       

Some parents were concerned about asking for help with sex and relationships questions for fear of being misunderstood. Male carers were generally less involved and targeted work with dads was suggested.

As a result of the research a briefing has been sent to schools, school nurses and local agencies across Derbyshire. A range of agencies who attend the Teenage Pregnancy local operational meeting received the briefing including district managers, children's centres, youth teams, sexual health services and family resource workers . Schools in teenage pregnancy 'hot spot' areas were given a free SRE book bag and many other schools responded to the briefing by requesting a copy of the book bag from our resource library. Parents are now able to borrow books from these schools.  Some Children's Centres have also received training around supporting families with SRE and have purchased useful resources for parents. 

Future plans include producing a leaflet explaining normal sexual development and questions asked by children at different ages and also a leaflet for dads and male carers.

Click  here for the 'Answering Awkward Questions' briefing.

The 'Answering Awkward Questions' Project was a finalist for the 2012 Pamela Sheridan Award for Innovation in SRE.