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Parents feel lack of Support

They say it takes a village, but a survey of 2,500 Canadian parents has found that only a quarter feel they have a high level of support from their community when it comes to raising their children.

"The challenges for parents have never been greater, yet they do not experience the support they need," says Carol Crill Russell, senior research adviser with Invest in Kids, which conducted the detailed online survey in early 2007.

She says the findings are critical because mothers and fathers who feel valued and encouraged in what they consider the most important job of their lives make better parents.

"Parenting behaviour is strongly related to the support they feel," she says.

The full report will be released in the next couple of months, but Crill Russell shared some highlights Friday at a Toronto symposium on early childhood.

Invest in Kids, a non-profit devoted to research and public education, has done studies showing that the more parents feel confident and the more they understand child development, the more positive their behaviour towards their kids. They are more inclined to praise, laugh and play with their children than scold, punish or shame them.

Crill Russell notes that income and education made no difference.

The latest survey, which included a cross-section of parents from different regions, social classes and ethnic backgrounds across the country, underlines that community supports are also key.

It asked parents about the support they received from four sources: their partners; their own parents; other family members and friends; and the neighbourhood community.

Among its findings:

* Only 26 per cent of mothers and 27 per cent of fathers felt a high level of support from their neighbourhood communities. This referred specifically to intangibles, such as whether they felt welcome, had somewhere to turn for help or had caring neighbours.
* Parents who had used six or more local programs or services in the previous year – anything from parent and tot drop-ins to swimming lessons, libraries or playgrounds – felt more supported by the community and were 60 to 75 per cent more likely than other parents to report using positive behaviours with their children.
* Only 44 per cent of dads and 43 per cent of moms said they felt highly supported by their partners.
* Other family members and friends were the largest source of support for mothers and half reported high levels of support that led to more positive parenting behaviour.
* Roughly half (55 per cent of mothers and 46 per cent of fathers) felt highly supported by their own parents.

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