For enquiries about The POLICY RESEARCH BUREAU's past work,

Parenting in Poor Environments
A Study of Parents and Stress


This study, funded by the Department of Health under its 'Supporting Parents' research initiative, focused on the issue of parental stress, taking as its starting point previous research findings which indicated that certain clusters of socio-demographic characteristics (such as poverty, high unemployment, high proportions of lone parent households etc.) are associated with parenting breakdown and child maltreatment.

What did the research focus on?

The project explored parents' experiences of parenting in objectively defined 'poor parenting environments' across the country. The study aimed to examine the main contexts for stress in child rearing, but also attempted to identify protective or buffering factors that help parents cope with these types of stresses. Thus we explored parenting strengths as well as weaknesses, and the areas in which parents thought they were coping, as well as where they felt they were struggling. For example, we explored issues such as:

  • what causes difficulties in child rearing
  • parents' perceptions of the relative success of different strategies for coping with stress
  • their awareness and use of both formal and informal sources of support for families
  • reasons for not using support services where these exist
  • their views on the types of support which would be most useful and appropriate to someone in their position
  • how such support might be delivered or reinforced

What did the research involve?

The study was ambitious in scope, involving two complementary phases. Firstly, we conducted a national survey of around 1,750 randomly selected parents with dependent children living in areas of high material, social and structural disadvantage (which we term 'poor parenting environments'). Designing the sample for the survey component of the research involved developing the "Poor Parenting Environments Index" (or PPE-index) for scoring different areas of the country according to their relative level of socio-demographic disadvantage (using Enumeration Districts - EDs - as the smallest geographical unit). We achieved this by investigating the characteristics of areas according to their 1991 Census profile, with particular reference to indicators known to be associated with parenting difficulties. Having established the distribution of scores across the country as a whole, we selected a random sample of EDs which were located within the top one third of the distribution, which we defined as 'poor' environments for parenting. Within each selected ED, we then drew a sample of addresses using the Postcodes Address File (a list of all addresses to which mail is delivered by the Post Office). Interviewers from the MORI Social Research fieldforce visited all selected addresses and 'sifted' for the presence of parents with dependent children in the household. Where eligible parents were found, they were invited to take part in an interview. We sifted around 10,500 addresses to find approximately 1,750 eligible and willing parents.

The second phase of the project involved a qualitative follow-up of around 40 parents from the survey sample who were bringing up children in circumstances which could be expected to be especially stressful and difficult; for example, parents in families where either parents or children had long-term serious health problems, single parents, parents from large families, parents living in poor accommodation etc. These parents were interviewed in depth by members of the research team, and the more detailed case-specific data from this stage was used to amplify and complement the data from the survey stage.

Main Questionnaire

Self-completion Booklet

Timescale and final product of the research

A report to the Department of Health was submitted in 2001, now published as a book from Jessica Kingsley Publishers:

Ghate D and Hazel N (2002) Parenting in poor environments: Stress, support and coping. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

A summary of key messages is available from the Policy Research Bureau for £2.50 (including post and packing). It can also be downloaded for free from the Publications section.

See Publications for further details.

Last updated June 2004