Improving child wellbeing is important for individuals, families and communities. Much research shows that strengthening child and family wellbeing, particularly during the early years, provides strong foundations for children and adults to flourish throughout the life course. One way to potentially achieve this is through strong support to parents.
This paper examined whether parent’s perceptions of formal and informal support are associated with child wellbeing. We defined informal support as support provided by immediate family, friends and extended family and neighbours. Formal support included community leaders and other adults in the community, child carers and teachers, and other community services (e.g., family doctor, nurse, psychologist). We used data from a cross-sectional parenting survey undertaken in 2018 in South-East Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Respondents were 2,654 parents with a child under 15 years of age.
Just over half of parents in the sample perceived their child to have social, emotional, behavioral problems with three quarters indicating these as being moderate to severe. Further, parents who reported child difficulties were more likely to experience greater social disadvantage. We found that informal support was negatively associated with child problems and the severity of child problems, whereas formal support was positively related to child problems and the severity of child problems. We also found that parents with higher levels of self-regulation and better parenting practices reported lower child social, emotional and behavioral problems.
Our study highlights the importance of social support for both parents and children for improving child social, emotional and behavioral outcomes and points to the importance of strong institutions (e.g., medical, psychological), informal communities and social networks (friends, neighbours, families) to ensure children thrive. These sources of support are particularly important for socially disadvantaged families. Policy and practice that strengthens these support services will improve outcomes for children.