We are passionate about supporting parenting to strengthen family life. As parents ourselves we know first hand how hard it is and how much we need the support of others in our journey raising our children. At Kids Matter we hope to provide that support to parents all over the UK.
I qualified as a Clinical Psychologist over 20 years ago and have specialised in work with children and families. When I had my own children, however, I realised quite how hard the job of parenting is!
One day when I was with my son at the playground near a large council estate close to where I live. I saw a mother become increasingly agitated with her toddler and finally biting his arm as a means of disciplining him. To my shame, I walked away without intervening to help either of them because I myself felt unconfident and sometimes out of control and felt in no position to help. However, this scene stayed with me a long time and I increasingly felt drawn to working with parents like that mum who are struggling not only with parenting, as I was, but also with socioeconomic disadvantage, lack of support, single parenthood etc. As a Christian I often prayed for direction regarding my career and I now felt very strongly that I wanted to bring parenting support to inner city, more vulnerable communities.
As I was working only part time in the NHS, I started to offer my time in the community centre of the council estate near me by running short parenting courses. However, the courses were poorly attended as I didn’t have ongoing relationships with the parents. It was hard to ‘break in’ and be trusted and accepted.
I persevered in this way for a number of years until one day I heard of Marika, a single mum from HTB, our London church who was going to be running The Parenting Children Course, developed by pastors from HTB, Nicky and Sila Lee, with parents from a London housing estate. I decided to go along as a volunteer to see what I could learn, and see if I could replicate it in my community.
That first morning on the estate I was struck by how well Marika seemed to know the parents there. She was holding their babies and calling and texting people to make sure that they came to the course. This was already very different from the ‘professional model’ I was used to.
We walked into our allocated room, which was set up with a semi circle of chairs and a flip chart with two seats for us as leaders. This was a very familiar teaching setting for me as a psychologist. However Marika, with her 20 years of experience in the field, declared: “this will never work.” Then, from somewhere, she produced a table, tablecloth, teapot, cups, pastries and fruit and rearranged the chairs so that we all sat around a table together. At first I was uncomfortable with the set up as I felt: “shouldn’t we be set apart as the facilitators?”
In time, though, it became apparent that sitting together as parents sharing our stories and collective wisdom was reaping visible fruit. I found that sharing my mistakes actually helped parents feel relieved they were not the only ones struggling. Hearing that even a child psychologist can lose her temper or handle something badly was normalising. It led people to feel accepted and empathised with, and more able to learn and share themselves. The atmosphere we created was one of warmth and intimacy in pleasant surroundings with nice food and coffee.
I began to get excited about this ‘parenting in the community’ model and wondered what it would be like if small groups like this met in hard to reach corners of the country, how it could change society one small group at a time.
Marika and I are now delighted to have gone on to develop and run a programme that we now call Kids Matter, that is based on the principles of The Parenting Children Course in several inner city areas and are thrilled to have seen parents grow in confidence, enjoy their children more and generally have better functioning families. Together we have now launched a charity with the same name to train community leaders to run it with their vulnerable families and so scale up the provision of the programme. In addition, I recently completed my post qualification Doctorate in Psychology evaluating how effective are The Parenting Children Course and this developed and extended version of it, in reducing problem behaviour in children, improving parental disciplinary skills, improving family functioning and increasing parental confidence. The results of the study were outstanding for a universal, voluntary sector based programme like this one and we feel we can confidently now forge ahead and train others to run it in as many hard to reach communities around the country as possible.
My story began many years ago when I was a single mother with very little money: I couldn’t afford to go by bus both ways to take my daughter to school. We would go together by bus and then I would walk home, then I would walk to the school and bring her home again by bus. Rain or shine, every day I would pass the World’s End Estate. I would see young children hanging around being a nuisance, teenagers looking menacing, smoking cigarettes and using drugs and mothers shouting at their children and looking harassed. This saddened me greatly: family life seemed to be disintegrating. After witnessing a particularly bad argument I looked up to the Heavens and prayed: “God, is there anything I can do to help? “
When I got home, in my bedroom, on top of my chest of drawers, was a piece of paper. It was an article, beautifully cut out from a newspaper, which read: ‘Volunteers needed for local church on the World’s End Estate to help with the children’s work’ … I had never seen, or cut out the advert…and definitely hadn’t put it there!
I applied to volunteer and was accepted straight away. I could see why on my first day, It was chaos! The sweet lady who was running the youth group had lost all control of the children – they were hitting each other, swearing and running riot.
One young girl, an 8 year old, was being banned from ever coming back to the church! She was a time-bomb that was exploding every two minutes , such an angry child, hitting out at everything and everyone at full volume! I found myself becoming her advocate and promising that I would sit with her at church during the Sunday service. For over two years we sat together with me (tightly) hugging her with both arms. She wasn’t able to hit and/or hurt anyone – but she would swear if anyone gave her what she called a “funny look!” She became, and still is, my very special girl.
The ‘naughty’ children became my remit; it was easy because I loved them. As I got to know their families it would quickly become obvious that their home life was the reason for the children’s behavioural issues.
The church then commissioned me to start a Single Parent Ministry which I have been running for nearly 20 years.
We needed to support the children within the family context. We needed a parenting course that wasn’t condemning, or dictatorial or threatening; it needed to be relational, sustainable and life changing.
It was in this context that I met Eli. Over the last, nearly 10 years we have been developing a programme that now we are proud to call Kids Matter that we believe is exactly that.