Home help for parents from 'supernannies'

Home help for parents from 'supernannies'
Team leader of the social work department from Chen Su Lan Methodist Children's Home Mr Cayden Woo (in white), 29, and facilities executive Mr Keith Ang (in striped shirt), 38, pay a visit to a family and speak to the mother in the house.

Even playing with Lego bricks could turn into a nightmare for the Ow Yongs.

Their 10-year-old son "Lenny", who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, would throw a fit if he was frustrated with the blocks.

"He may turn violent and throw things around or shout vulgarities," said Mrs Ow Yong, a 41-year-old cashier.

She went for parenting classes at three different agencies, but that did not help.

She and her husband, a supermarket assistant, admitted to being close to their wits' end, until they turned to a novel parenting programme offered by Chen Su Lan Methodist Children's Home.

Social workers there visited the Ow Yongs' flat to see how parents and child interacted before offering parenting techniques tailored to their needs.

The children's home is one of at least three voluntary welfare groups which offer such free home-based services to parents struggling with their children's behaviour.

Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre launched its service in 2013 after its affiliated agency, Marine Parade Family Service Centre, tried it in 2010 and found it worked.

"Many of these families face a host of other issues - including financial and marital," said Ms Serene Tan, senior social worker at Big Love.

"They may not be able to attend workshops outside."

While such services are relatively new here, research overseas has proven their impact.

A 2010 study in Britain found that home-based parenting programmes not only helped to manage children's behaviour through practical tips, but they also provided parents with social and emotional support.

The concept was also behind a popular British TV reality show - Supernanny - in which a professional nanny would observe a family in their homes before presenting a better parenting plan.

Here, social workers or trained volunteers first observe the family dynamics and home environment.

Common issues they look for are whether the child lacks attention and unhealthy communication patterns, such as parents being quick to blame the child. They then look for ways to instil discipline, set boundaries and grow a child's self-esteem.

The home sessions are held once a week and can continue for months. In Lenny's case, they set up a schedule for the boy to follow to ensure more stability.

Mrs Ow Yong was taught how not to give in to unreasonable demands, and to encourage good behaviour through a reward system.

The social workers also donated a desk after seeing that Lenny did his homework on the floor of his family's one-room rental flat.

Mrs Ow Yong, who has three other children in their teens, said: "Having someone come over to show me how to do it helped, and I no longer constantly think myself a bad mother."

Mr Cayden Woo, who is in charge of the home-based parenting programme at Chen Su Lan, which works with neglected or abused children, said: "When we saw many parents struggling to manage their children, we started a group for them to share tips and support in 2012.

"But after a few months, they still came back complaining about their children."

Some parents had found it hard to apply what they had learnt, he explained. So last year, the organisation started the home-based parenting service for its beneficiaries.

It has since helped 70 low-income families with primary school children.

"The children look forward to the visits because they get more attention from their parents and social workers on the issues they struggle with."

jantai@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on JANUARY 13, 2015.
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