Parents on the Ball

Programme revolving around local football clubs to boost parenting skills.

  • Action for Children programme run in partnership with local football clubs to strengthen parenting skills, prevent and reduce problem behaviours, promote positive child-adult relationships and reduce isolation
  • Weekly sessions made up of three elements: a parenting course, a nutritious lunch and a healthy activities programme
  • Aims to help parents that do not engage in conventional parenting programmes


Developed by Action for Children, the Parents on the Ball programme (PotB) is aimed at vulnerable and excluded families who find it difficult to access conventional parenting support and classes.

It takes place on the premises of the local football club and sets out to support mothers, fathers and carers to better care for their children while helping build self-esteem, confidence and parenting skills. It also promotes the physical and emotional wellbeing of families.

Parents on the Ball started out several years ago in the Highlands of Scotland in conjunction with Ross County Football Club. It has since expanded in recent months to run alongside local football clubs in St Johnstone, Burnley, Gateshead and Ashington in Northumberland. Further programmes are in place to start later this year in Bolton (in partnership with Bolton Lads and Girls Club and Bolton Wanderers FC), Sefton (in partnership with Southport FC) and South Tyneside (in partnership with South Shields FC).

The programme consists of 12 weekly sessions, each broken up into three parts. The first part offers parenting skills based on accredited courses that are operated in the local area. Part two is a nutritious lunch session led by an early years worker that helps parents promote healthy eating to their children, while an early years worker observes parents on how they interact with their child.

The third and final part is an hour-long activity session led by a member of the sports club community staff. As well as promoting health and fitness, this reinforces the importance to parents of encouraging positive behaviour and establishing rules, routines and boundaries.

According to Action for Children's commercial finance manager Andrew Giltrap, the average cost of running the PotB programme is £12,000. The charity will typically fund the programme jointly with a local partner.

The programme in Ashington for example is run in partnership between Action for Chidren and Ashington FC, and co-funded with housing provider Arch Homes. It started in February 2016 with an initial cohort of 11 carers (nine families).

Julie Ayre, programme co-ordinator at Ashington Children's Centre, says parents of children aged two to six are referred to it from a variety of professionals. The most traditional route is through family support workers and health visitors, but Arch Housing also distributes information to their tenants, which encourages parents to join themselves.

Ayre says parents do role-modelling exercises on good parenting and are shown clips of parents not managing their child's behaviour, not attaching to their child and not paying attention. The Ashington scheme uses the Incredible Years parenting course for the parenting skills part of the programme. It has run Incredible Years courses at the local children's centre since September 2015. Incorporating them into PotB enables it to reach a wider group of parents that would not otherwise attend a parenting programme.

Two facilitators deliver the course, in which parents follow a series of steps to help them play and nurture their child, and become more aware of their own behaviours and of themselves as role models.

On how the intervention is helping to strengthen the attachment between parent and child, Ayre says: "A lot of parents have started to understand their child's behaviour, that children are going through stages of development and that the behaviour is not directed at the parent." She says parents learn to hone fundamental skills such as sitting with children, playing and helping with speech and language.


An independent evaluation of Action for Children's initial Parents on the Ball course at the Averon Centre in Alness with Ross County FC in 2010/11 saw seven parents complete a self-assessment questionnaire. It assessed their parenting skills during the middle of the programme and at the end of the programme, ranking on a scale of one to 10 their knowledge and competence according to 13 criteria.

The data showed parenting skills had increased significantly among all criteria. For instance, being clear and positive increased from 4.29 to 7.86; effective praise from 3.57 to 7.57; effective limit setting from 3.71 to 7.29; tangible rewards and motivating from 3.29 to 6.43; and promoting self-esteem from 3.86 to 6.43.

This practice example is part of CYP Now's special report on attachment and neglect. Click here for more

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