Attitudes of Low-Income Parents toward Seeking Help with Parenting: Implications for Practice

By Keller, JoDee; McDade, Katherine | Child Welfare, May/June 2000 | Go to article overview

Attitudes of Low-Income Parents toward Seeking Help with Parenting: Implications for Practice


Keller, JoDee, McDade, Katherine, Child Welfare


Fifty-two low-income parents were surveyed to determine attitudes toward parenting and help seeking. Although a majority agreed that most parents, even "good" parents, need help or advice about parenting and thought they would seek help with parenting, low-income parents were less likely to believe in or seek out help than those with higher incomes. The most frequently selected sources of help were family, books and videos, telephone helplines, and friends. The least likely sources of help were child protective services, school personnel, clergy, and social service/ counseling agencies. Parent support and education groups were likely sources of support for only one in four low-income parents.

Parenting is a complex and demanding responsibility. All parents need support, though the nature of this support may change as society changes. In today's mobile society, extended family and community may not be readily available to assist parents with advice and/or provide concrete child care assistance. Community institutions such as schools or faith organizations may not provide the support that they once did, and people today may not trust or even know the neighbors who live around them.

Much has been written about the importance of providing support for parents [Tracy 1990; Dubrow & Garbarino 1989]. Parents have historically relied on the informal support of extended family, friends, and neighbors to provide concrete or material assistance as well as advice and emotional support with parenting. In addition, formal supports of professional helping relationships and structured informal supports of involvement in such activities as PTA, faith communities, lodges, unions, or clubs [Gladow & Ray 1986] have also helped create a social support network.

The presence of social support networks may reduce the number of stressful events experienced by parents through the provision of concrete assistance, may mediate the stress experienced by parents, and may facilitate better coping with the demands of parenting [Unger & Nelson 1990-91]. Additionally, support networks provide role models for parents as well as a link to other sources of parenting information [Tracy 1990]. Regardless of their income level, the more help parents receive, the less likely they are to report negative parental behavior [Hashima & Amato 1994]. Involvement in programs that reduce social isolation and connect families to services is associated with improved parenting skills, enhanced knowledge of child development, improved family relations, and children's improved school performance [Mueller & Patton 1995]. Help with such concrete tasks as babysitting and child care is associated with positive parental behavior while other types of help (e.g., transportation, home or car repairs, work around the house, advice, encouragement) are not [Hashima & Amato 1994]. Thus, help that is specifically directed at parenting and child care responsibilities is most effective.

Not all social contact is perceived as being supportive, however. The size of one's social support network is not as important as the composition of that network, as network members who are critical are negatively related to the level of emotional support one feels [Tracy 1990]. Also, social activities are not equated with social support. Though there may be other benefits from such activities, the frequency of social activities engaged in by parents is not related to parental behavior [Hashima & Amato 1994].

All families, then, can benefit from support, but not all types of support are perceived as being helpful. An understanding is needed as to what types of assistance will be most used and most effective with families. The widely varying needs of families with children may require a continuum of support services. Variables such as income, culture, family type, and stage of family development are important considerations in providing services that are relevant to the needs and expectations of families. …

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