Recommendation Rec(2006)19

of the Committee of Ministers to member states

on policy to support positive parenting

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 13 December 2006
at the 983rd meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

The Committee of Ministers, under Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe,

Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its member states, inter alia, by promoting the adoption of common rules;

Referring to the work of the Council of Europe in the field of children and families and reaffirming in general the following legal instruments:

-         the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ETS No. 5), which protects the rights of everyone, including children;

-         the European Social Charter (ETS No. 35) and revised European Social Charter (ETS No. 163), stating that “the family as a fundamental unit of society has the right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development” (Article 16);

-         the European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s Rights (ETS No. 160);

-         the Convention on Contacts concerning children (ETS No. 192);

-         the Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers to member states: No. R (84) 4 on parental responsibilities; No. R (85) 4 on violence in the family; No. R (87) 6 on foster families; No. R (94) 14 on coherent and integrated family policies; No. R (96) 5 on reconciling work and family life; No. R (97) 4 on securing and promoting the health of single parent families; No. R (98) 8 on children’s participation in family and social life; Rec(2005)5 on the rights of children living in residential institutions and Rec(2006)5 on the Council of Europe Action Plan to promote the rights and full participation of people with disabilities in society: improving the quality of life of people with disabilities in Europe 2006-2015;

Bearing in mind the Revised Social Strategy for Social Cohesion for which families are the place where social cohesion is first experienced and learnt and that a social cohesion strategy, while fully respecting the autonomy of the private sphere and of civil society, must seek to be supportive of families;

Recalling the Parliamentary Assembly’s Recommendations 751 (1975) on the position and responsibility of parents in the modern family and their support by society; 1074 (1988) on family policy; 1121 (1990) on the rights of children; 1443 (2000) on international adoption: respecting children’s rights; 1501 (2001) on parents’ and teachers’ responsibilities in children’s education; 1551 (2002) on building a 21st-century society with and for children: follow-up to the European strategy for children (Recommendation 1286 (1996)); 1639 (2003) on family mediation and equality of sexes; 1666 (2004) on a Europe-wide ban on corporal punishment of children; 1698 (2005) on the rights of children in institutions: follow-up to Recommendation 1601 (2003) of the Parliamentary Assembly;

Stressing the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which all the member states of the Council of Europe are Parties, and the basic principles of which should always underlie the rearing of children;

Recalling the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government (Warsaw, Poland, May 2005) and the commitment made their to fully comply with the obligations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to effectively promote the rights of the child and to take specific action to eradicate all forms of violence against children, and the ensuing programme “Building a Europe for and with children”, officially launched in Monaco, on 4 and 5 April 2006;

Referring to the Final Communiqué and Political Declaration of the European Ministers responsible for Family Affairs at their 28th session (Lisbon, Portugal, 16-17 May 2006), particularly:

-         recognising that parenting, though linked to family intimacy, should be designated as a domain of public policy and all the necessary measures should be adopted for supporting parenting and creating the conditions necessary for positive parenting;

-         recalling their commitment to promote and pursue a common European policy in the field of family affairs and the rights of the child within the framework of the Council of Europe;

Recognising the child as a person with rights, including the right to be protected and to participate, to express her/his views, to be heard and be heeded;

Recalling that public authorities have a vital role to play in supporting families in general and parents in particular, which is expressed through three core elements of family policy: public transfers and taxation, measures to balance work and family life, childcare provision and other services;

Considering that the family is a primary unit of society and that parenting plays a fundamental role in society and for its future;

Conscious of the many changes and challenges facing families today which require parenthood to be given greater prominence and better support, considering that such support is essential for children, parents and society as a whole;

Recognising that all levels of society have a role to play in supporting children, parents and families;

Considering that public authorities in conjunction with the economic and social sectors and civil society can, in taking action in support of parenting, help strive for a healthier and more prosperous future for society, as well as an improvement in the quality of family life;

Noting the need for a cross-sectoral and co-ordinated approach;

Keen to promote positive parenting as an essential part of the support provided for parenting, and as a means of ensuring respect for and implementation of children’s rights,

Recommends that the governments of member states:

-         acknowledge the essential nature of families and of the parental role and create the necessary conditions for positive parenting in the best interests of the child;

-         take all appropriate legislative, administrative, financial and other measures adhering to the principles set out in the appendix to this recommendation.

Appendix to the Recommendation Rec(2006)19

1.         Definitions

For the purpose of this recommendation, the term:

“Parents”: refers to persons with parental authority or responsibility;

“Parenting”: refers to all the roles falling to parents in order to care for and bring up children. Parenting is centred on parent-children interaction and entails rights and duties for the child’s development and self-fulfilment;

“Positive parenting”: refers to parental behaviour based on the best interests of the child that is nurturing, empowering, non-violent and provides recognition and guidance which involves setting of boundaries to enable the full development of the child.

2.         Fundamental principles of policies and measures

Policies and measures in the field of support for parenting should:

i.        adopt a rights-based approach: this means treating children and parents as holders of rights and obligations;

ii.       be based on a voluntary choice by the individuals concerned, except when public authorities have to intervene to protect the child;

iii.      acknowledge that parents have the prime responsibility for their child, subject to the child’s best interests;

iv.      consider parents and children as partners sharing, as appropriate, the setting up and implementation of the measures relating to them;

v.       be based on the equal involvement of parents and respect for their complementarity;

vi.      guarantee equal opportunities for children irrespective of their gender, status, abilities or family situation;

vii.     take into account the importance of a sufficient standard of living to engage in positive parenting;

viii.     be based on a clearly expressed concept of positive parenting;

ix.      address parents and key players having childcare, health and educational and social responsibilities towards the child and who should also respect the principles of positive parenting;

x.       recognise the diverse types of parenting and parental situations through adopting a pluralistic approach;

xi.      adopt a positive approach to parents’ potential, particularly through placing priority on incentives;

xii.     be long-term in order to guarantee stability and continuity of policy;

xiii.     ensure that the number of common rules of principle at national or federal level are kept to a minimum to promote equal standards at local level and that there is a local network of services providing parenting support measures;

xiv.    ensure inter-ministerial co-operation, encouraging and co-ordinating the action(s) in this field of the different ministries, departments and agencies concerned in order to implement policy that is coherent and comprehensive;

xv.     be co-ordinated at international level, through facilitating exchanges of knowledge, experience and good practice in the application of the guidelines on positive parenting.

3.         Objectives

Governments should organise their policies and programmes on positive parenting with a view to achieving the following three types of objectives:

i.      the creation of the conditions for positive parenting, by ensuring that all those rearing children have access to an appropriate level and diversity of resources (material, psychological, social and cultural) and that broad social attitudes and patterns of prevailing life are receptive to the needs of families with children and also those of parents;

ii.      the removal of barriers to positive parenting, whatever their origin. Employment policy, in particular, should allow a better reconciliation of family and working life;

iii.     the promotion of positive parenting by developing awareness of it and taking all the necessary measures to make it a reality. In order to have efficient policies to support parenting, public authorities should promote initiatives aiming to make people aware of the value and importance of positive parenting. Governments should take a pro-active approach to promoting awareness of parenting issues and to normalising participation in parenting programmes. Information should present different images of parenting in order to avoid stigmatising differences.

The goal of policy and measures should be the harmonious development (in all its dimensions) and proper treatment of children, with due regard for their fundamental rights and dignity. As a priority, measures should be taken to eliminate all child neglect and abuse and physical or psychological violence (including humiliation, degrading treatment and corporal punishment).

It is also essential to implement and further develop a suitable policy to bring about a change in social attitudes and patterns of life in order to accommodate more effectively the needs of children, parents and families and in particular to promote family-friendly working environments and services.

4.         Incorporating children’s rights in public policies

Public policies on support for parenting should incorporate childhood-related issues, acknowledging the needs and interests of all children and paying attention to their varying needs depending on their age, capacity, and level of maturity. For this purpose, the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child should be respected by all, regardless of context, and particularly guide the activities of all bodies working in the field, both public and private, especially for the following rights and general principles:

i.          the right to non-discrimination;

ii.          the best interests of the child should be of primary consideration;

iii.         the child’s right to life and development;

ix.         the child’s right to participation, to express her/his views, to be heard and be heeded, to receive information and to join associations and other organisations;

x.         the right to protection and care.

For this purpose, it is important for the child to grow up in a favourable family environment and in a positive atmosphere.

5.         Considering parents’ responsibilities, rights and obligations

In the best interests of the child, the rights of parents, such as entitlement to appropriate support from public authorities in fulfilling their parental functions, must also be given prominence. The exercise by parents of equal and shared responsibility for their children makes a major contribution to the harmonious development of the child’s personality.

Particular attention should be paid to the important role of fathers in the care and rearing of their children, taking into account in particular the principle of gender equality, the impact on families of the reconciliation of work and family life and family breakdown, which can often result in fathers living apart from their children.

6.         Core components of policies and measures

Policies to promote and encourage positive parenting will work best if they are based on consultation and dialogue with parents and on their voluntary involvement and participation, in order to reach a real partnership. In addition to the essential elements at point 4 and 5 of this recommendation, core components include the following:

6.1.      Supporting parents 

i.          alongside the measures proposed by public authorities to afford and improve support for parents, support from other agencies (such as municipalities, social security and associations) should also be acknowledged and encouraged;

ii.          policies should be geared to engendering support for parenting at the following three levels:

-         informal: creating and strengthening existing social bonds and encouraging new links between parents and their family, neighbours and friends;

-         semi-formal: empowering parents’ and children’s associations and NGOs and activating a range of self-help and other community-based groups and services;

-         formal: facilitating access to public services.

6.2.      Promoting education in children’s rights and positive parenting

i.          parents should be encouraged to become more aware of the nature of their role (and how it is changing), children’s rights, the responsibilities and obligations that derive from these and their own rights;

ii.          governments should also arrange for comprehensive guidelines and specific programmes to assist them in challenging life situations, conflict resolution, anger management through non-violent approaches and mediation techniques;

iii.         prevention programmes regarding the different forms of ill-treatment of children should be promoted and parents made aware of this serious problem and of its consequences on the child’s development;

iv.         children should also be taught about their rights and duties in order to make them aware of the concept of positive parenting and what this means for them.

6.3.      Reconciling family and working life

i.          public authorities should create the necessary conditions – and employers should be encouraged – to implement a better reconciliation of family and working life through legal and other provisions (such as flexible working arrangements, adjustment of working and school hours, leave policies, various types of good quality childcare services, provisions for looking after children with disabilities as well as sick children, etc.);

ii.          the social partners should be encouraged to negotiate and develop tailor-made policies adapted to the specific needs of each company and of their employees;

iii.         good practices make it clear to employers that a comprehensive work/life balance policy creates a win-win situation within companies.

6.4.      Policies at local level

The action taken at local level is particularly important in providing a response tailored more closely to the needs and characteristics of the populations concerned. Co-operation and co-ordination at national or federal and local levels and between these levels are necessary in order to offer families better service and optimise available resources and the use made of them. Administrative procedures should allow for an appropriate level of flexibility in service provision, consistent with ensuring equitable treatment of all families.

7.         Targeting of policies and measures

Particular attention should be paid to difficult social and economic circumstances and to crises within families, which require more specific support.

It is also essential to supplement general policies with a more targeted approach. Parenting in certain situations and at certain periods in the life cycle is by its nature more challenging. Despite the variations from country to country, the needs of the following groups should be especially attended to:

i.          first-time parents;

ii.          teenage parents;

iii.         families with particular needs;

iv.         families in difficult socio-economic circumstances.

In the case of separated parents, support policies should be aimed in particular at maintaining links between children and both their parents, unless this is contrary to the child’s best interests. Access to professional counselling should be provided and attention should be paid to cases where the parents have different cultural backgrounds or are of different nationalities.

Public authorities should stimulate and facilitate the creation of networks of mutual assistance associations between families and make available places where parents could meet to discuss – with professionals, if necessary – on issues relating to parenting, and provide parents with adequate support services like free help lines and counselling services.

8.         Parenting in situations of social exclusion

Parenting in situations of social exclusion or at risk of social exclusion can be particularly difficult and special attention should be paid to the needs of children and families in this situation, with reference in particular to the following:

i.        providing long-term support, as appropriate, to help them achieve the same results as other children and families; this support should include reaching out to them in their homes or in the places they frequent, and take into consideration the possible fear of parents in a situation of social exclusion towards social services, particularly of having their children taken away;

ii.       giving sufficient means to support parents and to allow them to acquire the necessary competence to fulfil their responsibilities towards their children;

iii.      guaranteeing access to social rights (including the right to adequate income, health, education, housing and employment) and the same quality targeted services as those enjoyed by other families;

iv.      ensuring that families and children suffering exclusion are considered in their social context (including the extended family, the community and their relational networks) and enjoy the same quality services, including local ones, as those enjoyed by other families, in accordance with their needs;

v.       building a trustworthy relationship with the families and enabling parents to regain control of their own lives;

vi.      organising training for professionals and parents together in order to achieve better mutual knowledge and understanding, to build a common project in the best interests of the child and enabling professionals to learn about what these families are experiencing and to better know their family project, with a view to focusing their practice on it;

vii.     ensuring personal and collective support for professionals in order to raise their level of competence in working with people in very difficult situations and take the necessary steps to create new approaches;

viii.     taking ad hoc measures to avoid the risk of marginalisation of migrant families;

ix.      avoiding measures and administrative practice that stigmatise children and parents by treating them differently because their families are less well-off than others;

x.       introducing measures to prevent dropout from school as an efficient means to counteract family distress.

9.         Qualitative guidelines for professionals

In order for the above rights and principles to be applied, benchmarks and standards must be set. Guidelines on the focus of their services – such as the Council of Europe guidelines on positive parenting – should be given to professionals and practitioners (including those not directly involved with children but whose work could have an impact on their rights), with particular emphasis on:

i.        the principle of equity and accessibility, which should underlie all action taken;

ii.       the principle of becoming partners with and empowering parents. Partnership presupposes recognition of parents’ own experience and their knowledge of their own children;

iii.      application of the concept of partnership to co-operation and interdisciplinary co-ordination between agencies, specifying the particular areas of activity of each department, providing for a sharing of facilities and working in a cross-curricular network;

iv.      ensuring that the application of comprehensive services is conceived in terms of support and assistance, encouraging family initiative without creating excessive dependency. Accordingly, strengths and resources of families should be supported. This also means that professionals should act as support for parents, in ways that are non-judgmental and non-stigmatising;

v.       building up parents’ self-confidence, enhancing their competencies and potential and motivating parents to be informed and trained;

vi.      enabling children to communicate their feelings and needs, in particular very young children and children with communication impairments;

vii.     the importance of service provision and professional practices by ensuring that the emphasis is placed on:

-         thorough training of the professionals concerned;

-         ongoing evaluation, both external and internal (self-evaluation);

-         continuity of action;

-         responses based on the understanding of the child and families in their context;

viii.     devising methods to identify risk factors regarding failure to provide parental care to be disseminated among social services, health-care professionals, those dealing with young people, teachers and childcare staff to train them in identifying families with problems in this respect and offer support. A better co-ordination among the services working to support a family should constantly be sought;

ix.      co-ordinating the implementation of measures to separate children from their parents, when this is necessary, with work with the family of origin (particularly in partnership with the parents) in order to enable them to prepare or better prepare for and accept this step as a means of ensuring the best interests of the child. The aim of any such measure should be the return, if possible, of the child in the family environment.

10.       School and childcare environment

An integrated approach to the provision of assistance with schooling and support for parenting should be encouraged (especially where children lack stable roots or a permanent home – for example children with a Roma or Gypsy background, children of migrants); childcare and school integration as well as dialogue between these service providers and parents should be encouraged, with special attention to families in difficult situations and to those with particular needs.

11.       Key messages for parents and all those having responsibilities for children and their rearing

Key messages on positive parenting should be issued to all parents and persons providing care and involved in the rearing of a child on a daily basis (such as childminders or school staff). These messages should make clear how the child is to be respected as a person and how his/her participation should be promoted, and that parents have rights as well as responsibilities. Key messages should be drawn up on the basis of consultation with all the stakeholders involved, especially parents, service providers and children, and be monitored to ensure that they are effective and are being adhered to.

12.       International co-operation

Measures should be put in place to improve international co-operation and exchange of best practice in relation to parenting.