Swimmers, Strugglers and Surfers: the acceptability and use of groups by parents and their young children from a Sure Start area

  • Jones, Sue (Principal Investigator)
  • Farmer, Elaine (Manager)
  • Boushel, Margaret M E (Manager)
  • Heywood, Frances S (Manager)

Project Details


It is widely accepted that good early years services can substantially improve children’s life chances in later years. Yet there is concern that often the most disadvantaged parents are least likely to use services such as parent and toddler groups. Why is this? This study involved asking main-carer parents (overwhelmingly mothers) from a Sure Start area about factors affecting how well they were coping, along with specific questions about which early years groups they knew about, which they had attended and which they had not, and why.

Integrating this quantitative and qualitative data shed light on three types of mother – group attenders, group-avoiders and group-‘phobic’ mothers. It also highlighted the crucial importance of mother-peer factors in determining whether mothers attended parent and toddler groups or not, and pointed to ways in which those running such groups can increase the chance of the more timid mothers attending.

Social class emerged as an important issue, affecting mothers’ choice of early years groups, schools and preferred residential area. ‘Surfers’ were keen to move from a ‘rough’ to a ‘better’ area, ‘swimmers’ were content to stay in their neighbourhood, and ‘strugglers’ were the group-‘phobic’ mothers who were struggling in many areas of life. Group-‘phobia’ , in particular the fear of going out alone and meeting people, was found to be a key identifier of mothers struggling to cope.

Paper and leaflet
Warning - Group Ahead! Attractions and Barriers to Early Years Groups (2010) Paper presented at Social Policy Association Annual Conference, University of Lincoln 2010.

Danger – Group Ahead! Attractions and Barriers to Early Years Groups (2011) Leaflet for practitioners.

Funder: Economic and Social Research Council, Barnardo’s, Bristol University (PhD CASE studentship).
Effective start/end date1/01/0931/12/09

Structured keywords

  • SPS Children and Families Research Centre


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