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It is very straightforward to produce a list of skills and knowledge required of trainers in this field – subject knowledge, knowledge of the legislative framework, teaching skills, knowledge of child development and so on. However, to understand the unique qualities and skills that successful trainers need to train, support and guide parenting practitioners, the most important thing to remember is that technical skills are only one part of the picture.
The training of parenting practitioners requires a high degree of sensitivity, maturity, self awareness and the ability to be reflective and empathic. The nature of the course content and its likely impact on learners, requires trainers to scaffold learners through development of self awareness, often in relation to learners own experience of parenting or being parented.
Course material can have a life altering effect and trainers need to be able to respond appropriately to learners in that situation. The course can sometimes create an emotionally charged learning environment, and whether this is predicted or not, trainers should be skilled in managing complex learning groups.
A practitioner training group will in some ways be a parallel process of the groups which practitioners will go on to facilitate. Trainers therefore need to be able to identify and increase required skills in others. Additionally, they need to be able to observe those who are not demonstrating these vital additional qualities and signpost them to areas where their skills are most appropriate, so being able to give difficult feedback in a sensitive, supportive but unequivocal manner is a must.
The core skills training for parenting practitioners is based on the Family Partnership Model where it is stated that:
... The personal qualities of helpers make the difference between intervention success and failure. Systems are only as good as the weakest link: good systems fail because of the lack of these qualities, and rather unlikely systems can work, because of the human qualities shown by the people involved. It follows that helpers should be selected carefully, as much for their personal qualities and skills as for their technical ability. (Davis, H., Day, C. and Bidmead, C. (2002) Working in partnership with parents. London: Pearson.)
Primarily, any trainer should be experienced in this type of training, and have had the opportunity to co-deliver, supporting the training alongside an experienced parenting practitioner trainer. They need to have skills that enable them to plan, deliver and evaluate the training, checking that learning goals are clear and that the learners are learning. This means being able to identify suitable and diverse activities that are appropriate to adult learners, and to be able to deliver material in a helpful and appropriate way.
Trainers must have a sound knowledge of child development – in particular, social and emotional development and theories related to parenting such as social learning, parenting styles and attachment.
Parenting programmes are often evaluated for impact and trainers must have a good understanding of norm-related expectations, though they should also be aware of the diversity of developmental stages in children.
In order to ensure that the training is well planned and appropriate for delivery to adults, trainers may well have completed or be working towards a professional teaching and learning qualification with a minimum equivalency to the Award in Preparing to teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector.
A good trainer will be modelling good practice all the time, so that learners will benefit from a safe and nurturing environment, with a facilitator who demonstrates a tolerant and inclusive attitude and a partnership approach to the work. Trainers should be confident in modelling a style of delivery which allows students to build on their strengths using the appreciative model of inquiry and practice rather than a deficit model.
The trainer should be able to value and respect all views and create an environment that is framed by his or her knowledge and experience but that is developed through the sharing of experiences and the ability to apply those experiences to new theories and concepts. This can be done through the use of appropriate resources and opportunities for shared learning and reflection.
Because there are so many different ways of parenting, and differing opinions on best practice, there is an evidence base of findings which identifies ‘what works best’. Therefore a good trainer of practitioners needs to have a sound understanding of the value of a rigorous, evidence based approach, and how to implement evaluation processes in their practice. This will be complemented by knowledge and understanding of the body of current research and findings into the relevance of work with parents to improve child outcomes.
Although parenting practitioners are currently not required to hold a professional qualification, it is likely that the most effective trainers will be those who are working at graduate level, in a helping profession.
The parenting field is diverse: practitioners are based in many areas – Children’s Centres, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), the youth justice system, early years services, community health services, social services, education services, and many more, which range across the child and adult workforces. Therefore the trainer will need to be knowledgeable about a range of relevant principles, values, legislation and frameworks, and also should be able to promote harmony and trust across professional boundaries in line with current requirements for integrated work practices.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the trainer must be a reflective practitioner, with a commitment to self-evaluation and practice supervision. However rewarding the job is, it is a challenging role and all those who work in this field must be emotionally robust and able to manage both their own feelings and those of others. In order to do this, workers must be able to share, grow and learn as they do the same for others.
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