How parenting interventions help us understand and support families

27th July 2020

Our parenting intervention practice model helps participants understand the parent–child relationship in order to identify actions the family could take to achieve lasting change. Brittany, our Social Work Practice Development Lead, provides an overview of what these parenting interventions look like at Frontline.

The term parenting intervention is quite broad and is frequently used in social work. At Frontline, what we mean is an approach which can be adapted by our participants to meet the needs of a family. The approach is made up of four theories: attachment theory, mentalisation theory, trauma theory and social learning theory. These act as tools for our participants, allowing them to gain a better understanding of the family they are supporting and aiding any decisions they make around a parenting intervention. This is important, because in the everyday life of a social worker you may be supporting a parent in multiple different ways, for example to seek help after they start to drink excessively or supporting a family to move into better housing, all of which are an intervention of some kind.

Social Learning

  • The idea that children learn by seeing and doing.
  • That a child will see a parent or sibling do something and will try this out for themselves.

For example: A child may imitate the actions of a sibling, friend or parent who smokes because they see this happen every day.


  • Relational trauma is trauma that occurs in relation to someone else.
  • This could include neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse.

For example: Trauma experienced as a child may influence a parent’s behaviour towards their partner or their children.


  • When someone is able to put themselves in the shoes of others and be able to think about what another person may be thinking and feeling.
  • Also being able to mentalise for yourself: what am I thinking or feeling and why might that be?

For example: Being able to put yourself in the needs of your baby, to think about why they may be crying.


  • A survival mechanism that individuals are born with.
  • There are different types of attachment you can have: secure, insecure and disorganised.

For example: In a public playground you can see the attachment children have to their care giver when a child runs off but then pauses and looks around to see if their mum, dad or care giver is there.

Social learning theory could be described as the ‘how’ in this model; how can you be there for your child? How can you teach your child? The other theories are then the ‘why’; why might that be difficult? By bringing these four theories together into one approach, participants support families to reflect on their style of parenting, what influences it and the impact this has on their child. By creating a fuller picture of parent and family life, participants gain a better understanding of why certain challenges exist for someone in their parenting and what adjustments need to be made to make this better. Most importantly, this supports families to improve the quality of their relationships and make positive and lasting change.

Throughout summer institute, we’re taking a closer look at the practice models our participants learn on the Frontline programme. Last week we looked at systemic practice; learn how it works in theory and in practice.