Supporting healthy relationships among parents of children with behaviours that challenge: A practical guide

Legacy Content

This project or publication was produced before or during the merger of What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) and the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF).

Currently, little attention is paid to how parental conflict affects the lives of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the UK. This practical guide for local areas has been developed to improve understanding of how risk factors among parents of children with behaviours that challenge can impact on parental conflict and in turn on child outcomes, how to effectively engage these parents, what evidence-based support can be offered, and how to appropriately assess progress for these families.

The most recent official statistics show that in 2012 there were 0.8 million disabled children and young people aged 0–18 in the UK, 6% of all children. Children with neurodevelopmental disabilities (such as Autism, ADHD, and Tourette’s Syndrome) are the largest group of disabled children and young people in the UK, making up an estimated 3–4% of children in England, and more recent studies suggest that over 2% of children and young people in the UK are autistic.

This guide focuses on children with neurodevelopmental difficulties or diagnosed neurodevelopmental conditions who manifest behaviours that challenge. Research suggests that parents of children with behaviours that challenge might experience higher levels of parental stress. Parental stress, in turn, is associated with a higher risk of relationship distress and conflict, which in turn can affect outcomes for children. The scale and impact of this is likely to vary for children with different conditions and with different levels of support.

We use the expression behaviours that challenge to refer to persistent behaviours that children can demonstrate in a number of ways and in various settings, from becoming withdrawn (internalising behaviours) to acting aggressively (externalising behaviours). Sometimes, these are described as ‘challenging behaviours’. We recognise that these behaviours, which are often caused by distress and are unintentional, can be manifested by children with and without neurodevelopmental difficulties and disabilities. However, children with neurodevelopmental difficulties and diagnosed neurodevelopmental conditions might face additional barriers in having their individual needs met when compared to other children. For more about language and definitions see page 6 of the guide.

This guide has been developed for local leads, commissioners and practitioners to improve understanding of the factors that increase the risk of parental conflict among parents of children with behaviours that challenge, how to engage parents, what evidence-based support can be offered, and how to assess progress for these families.

The guide includes:

  • An overview of the research evidence of the factors that can increase the risk of parental conflict among parents of children with behaviours that challenge, and the impact of parental conflict on child outcomes.
  • Advice on how research evidence can be put into practice to inform your local strategy.
  • Recommendations on how to engage parents of children with behaviours that challenge.
  • A summary of evidence-based healthy relationship and parenting interventions that can be used with parents of children with behaviours that challenge.
  • A summary of measurement tools that can be used to measure parental conflict, parental stress and co-parenting with parents of children with behaviours that challenge.

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