Parenting in Poor Environments: Stress, Support and Coping
Backett-Milburn, Kathryn, Journal of Marriage and Family
Parenting in Poor Environments: Stress, Support and Coping. Deborah Ghate and Neal Hazel. London and New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Limited. 2002. 314 pp. ISBN 1-84310-069-X. $28.95 (paper).
The study reported in this excellent book was commissioned by the U.K. Department of Health and carried out by the Policy Research Bureau. Evidently, part of the remit was to produce a clear steer for policy development, which the authors provide, but this is also highquality academic work, which is sometimes difficult to achieve within the constraints of such commissions.
In the United Kingdom, we are well provided with quantitative evidence about the extent and nature of poverty in our society. Fewer studies exist that give insight into the everyday experience and meanings of poverty. The research reported in this book fills some of those gaps with regard to parenting. It draws on face-to-face survey interviews with a nationally representative sample of parents (n = 1,754) living in objectively defined "poor environments," and 40 in-depth interviews with parents in especially difficult circumstances. The research drew on an "ecological" model of parenting, which encompasses the different levels of individuals, families, and households, and the community or local environment. The authors address whether families in poor environments are subject to Stressors known to increase the risk of difficulties with parenting; the interface between stress factors, social support, resilience, and coping with parenting; and what parents themselves want from social support.
Much of the value of this book lies in the sensible, sensitive, and conceptually reflective way in which findings are discussed and unpacked, always valuing the respondents as the best commentators on their own lives. The study concludes that because of elevated levels of adversity for parents and their children, and often quite clearly because of poverty as a distal factor, parenting in a poor environment is undoubtedly particularly difficult and fraught with risks. Nevertheless, this book encourages us to question some well-worn stereotypes. For instance, although we are not surprised to be told that parents in poor environments are in substantially worse physical and emotional health than the rest of the population, there are fewer dramatic differentials in their children's physical and behavioral problems, though the authors acknowledge that children growing up in poverty may be storing up problems for the future. Similarly, with regard to the problems of lone parenting, logistic regression analysis shows poverty rather than marital status to be the significant factor, often suggesting that life with a partner is not necessarily any rosier.
Although many parents readily identified problems with their neighborhoods and local areas, and these risky environments (neighborhood incivilities, housing conditions, physically dirty and degraded environmental conditions) became riskier the poorer the area, most respondents said that their area was a reasonable place to bring up children, that local people were friendly, and that they knew some neighbors personally. …