Why You Need to Increase Parental Engagement for School Health Services

In school health, parental engagement is a crucial tool to foster trust in health services & drive uptake. Research increasingly demonstrates that a holistic approach to public health is most effective. But, with so many methods of parental engagement available:

Parental involvement encompasses a range of formal and informal activities, including participation in school health events, assisting with learning and homework, decision-making with school personnel, and engaging with the local community,

    Page 3 (Spencer, 2018)

it can be difficult to know which way is the best.

And, you don’t want to waste time or money that could be better spent elsewhere. This is especially true now, with budgets tightening (and role scope increasing) year-on-year. It’s now more important than ever that providers are conscious of the role that parents play.

How Parental Engagement can affect Child Outcomes

However, the effects of effective parental engagement – or lack of – cannot be understated. The CDC, for example, suggests that parental engagement in school health is responsible for a whole range of child-health outcomes; 

students who feel supported by their parents are less likely to experience emotional distress, practice unhealthy eating behaviors, consider or attempt suicide, or disengage from school and learning

    Page 7 (CDC Strategies for Involving Parents in School Health)

If you want to skip the discussion, and dive right into finding out about specific strategies you can use to drive parental engagement in school health, click here to read our second blog on just that!

Improve Parental Engagement in School Health and Reap the Benefits

Parents are the lifeblood of school health. Parental trust and parental engagement in school health services are key to building an educated community. This is partly because higher levels of parental education are linked to better child health outcomes. However, without trust – which cannot be gained without engagement – programmes are doomed to fall short. This is especially true in disadvantaged communities, who may already be distrusting of health services.

Without trust, uptake will fall. Outcomes will decrease, as fewer parents receive, or follow, public health guidance. Importantly; 

Parents are no longer passive recipients of information but are now partners in the construction of a fuller portrait of the student, and acknowledged contributors to the student’s academic future

    (Goodall and Montgomery, 2014)   

Plus, with increased focus from commissioners on reducing health inequities, parental engagement in school health is now more important than ever before. Even universal services require consent – which, itself, requires parents to engage with and trust both the service, and the service delivery.

Determinants of Parental Engagement in School Health

There are two factors that dictate consent when considering school health parental engagement. Firstly, most parents will only consent if they feel they have been provided with the correct information to make their decision. Informed consent is a legal requirement for any medical procedure. But, even putting legality to one side for a second, keeping parents “in the loop” about what actions you are taking, and what that means for their child, will go a long way. 

Secondly, it’s also crucial that parents feel empowered to trust the school health team. The obvious driver behind trust is that you are delivering interventions on their children. They simply will not allow you to do so, if there isn’t a base level of trust in place. 

Much like you wouldn’t allow a stranger to babysit, you aren’t going to allow someone you don’t know or trust to inject your child with a mystery substance!

Plus, through stronger parent-provider relationships, more robust health education can be delivered. Especially in disadvantaged communities, who are more likely to be lacking in the basic health knowledge, this can be crucial to ensuring uptake. 

Final Thoughts - Considerations to Take Away

To summarise:

  • Parental engagement in school health helps increase health education in the community, especially in disadvantaged communities
  • Covers a range of activities – from participating in school activities to informing themselves about school health programmes.
  • Health education & parental health education are both important predictors of child health.
  • Without parental engagement strategies in place, uptake will remain low.
  • Uptake and engagement are driven by knowledge & trust.
  • Parent-provider relationships should be a vehicle to impart health education to the community, which is essential for developing a healthier Britain and reducing health inequities.

Look out for our next blog post in this series, The Best Parental Engagement Strategies for School Health, where we discuss some of the methods you can use to help drive engagement.

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