‘Children Don’t Come With Manuals!’: Life as a Parent Support Worker

Parents walking with child in the park

Sally Ross has been working for Spurgeons Children’s Counselling Services, for nearly two years and talked to us about life as a Parent Support Worker.  

Getting started

The idea of volunteering with was suggested to Sally by a colleague, and she started as a volunteer during the pandemic. ‘As for many people, the lockdowns were a chance for me to reflect and think about what direction I wanted my life to go in,’ says Sally. ‘I felt drawn to help people, but had no idea how I was going to do it!’

When a paid Parent Support Worker opportunity came up in October 2021 Sally jumped at the chance to apply. ‘As I had already been a volunteer for a year I was already well trained in the Parent Support Programme and this allowed me to complete further training in supporting families with children with Autism as well,’ says Sally. She has since helped several families this year who have children with additional needs, 'The beauty of the Spurgeons Parent Support Programme is that because we are working on a 1-1 basis, we can really focus on the individual needs of the family,' she adds.

A parent support worker advises a young girl during a counselling session

The Parent Support Programme

The team of 6 Parent Support Workers at Spurgeons completed the Parent Support Programme with 96 families over the past 12 months. 11 of those families were supported by Sally. The results showed a 60% improvement in the children’s emotional wellbeing after the parenting courses were completed, and over 50% increase in the scoring of the parent/child relationship. 

‘One of the families that I supported this year is a single mum, who separated with her children’s father following domestic abuse which was witnessed by the children in their home,’ says Sally. ‘This mum had very low confidence and the children were physically hurting her when she tried to set boundaries or say no to them. I worked with mum over an 8 week period. We talked about 1-1 time with her children, managing their emotions and how to set boundaries and consequences. Mum tested out my suggestions each week and thrived, her confidence is now much higher and she left me this feedback:’ 

The sessions have been invaluable to me. I have learnt lots of different strategies to manage my daughter’s behaviour, and been given lots or useful resources to use going forwards. It has also been invaluable to me to have someone non-judgmental to talk to who ‘gets it’ and offer support.

Supporting a struggling family

Sally feels particularly privileged to have helped a single mum with mental health issues and her child who had recently been diagnosed with autism and ADHD. 

Through the Parent Support Programme Sally was able to talk to mum about managing her daughter’s emotional health, putting in place routines in the home and giving clear instructions.

The mum Sally helped commented that ‘Sally was wonderful in understanding who I am as a parent and what I needed to do to help my daughter. She was very friendly, and I felt really comfortable opening up and talking to her. It opened up my eyes to the fact that nothing is impossible and that building a stronger mindset can really shift the pattern of things. The impact of remaining calm and understanding my daughter’s emotional needs has helped improve our relationship.’

Varying challenges

Families that Sally has supported this year have had a wide range of impacting factors, including mental health problems, self-harm, suicide, domestic abuse, autism, behavioural issues, sibling rivalry, alcoholism, drug abuse, poor living conditions, and financial problems.

Each of her referrals is assessed by a safeguarding team. The referrals can be sent in from Early Help, School Senco, church and community groups, preschools and playgroups. 

In mid September Sally will be trained as a licensed user for by the National Autistic Society, so that she can deliver group sessions for parents with a child on the Autistic spectrum. 

Helping parents succeed

‘Children don’t come with manuals. I wish they did,’ says Sally. ‘If an error code appears on the washing machine the book tells you what to do. But, if your child has a meltdown in the supermarket then there isn’t a manual to tell you what to do. It is a really difficult job being a parent, but support from charities such as Spurgeons can help parents to rebuild their parenting confidence.’


Find out about Spurgeons Children’s Counselling Services

Spurgeons counsellors work one to one with children in our centres, online and in primary and secondary schools throughout the South East. 

We also provide parenting support for families with significant challenges such as supporting those with additional needs. We deliver much of this work through five town-wide family hubs in partnership with schools and our own preschool family hubs.

Learn more about our Schools Counselling services

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