The life chances of children are directly related to the quality of parenting. This article explains how parenting skills can be improved to increase the attainment level of pre-school children. In Gosport, children’s attainment is below the national average. Little Waves Children’s Centre and Woodward Lewis used “Positive Deviance” facilitation to address the problem from within the community. By mobilizing a group of mums, who got together to learn from each other on how to overcome barriers to their child’s learning and development, a new support group has been established and practical methods to addressing the problem are being disseminated throughout the community.

The impetus for the programme came from the 2009 Children’s attainment results, which showed attainment in Hampshire as low when compared to the rest of the UK. Children in the pre-school age group scored just 51.8%. The Gosport district of Hampshire scored the lowest at only 41.8%, 10% lower than the rest of the country.

Positive Deviants hold the key to addressing deep-rooted problems successfully and sustainably. The Positive Deviance approach was introduced to the UK by Woodward Lewis, a social enterprise. Its origins lie in a Save the Children programme that sought to eradicate childhood malnutrition in villages in Vietnam, with limited budget. Jane Lewis was trained in the approach by the founder, Jerry Sternin.

Positive deviance facilitation creates behaviour change in communities. “Unusual suspect” volunteers define and measure a problem to work on and a measurable desired outcome, find people already in the community who have solved the problem and then enable others in the community to try out and reinforce the new coping behaviours. It is not just a process– its underlying mind-set respects all participants and assumes the best of them. Leaders emerge from the group and the group itself bonds and grows in confidence. Solutions tend to be unexpected and highly practical.

Jez Edwards, one of the mums on an initial PD programme in Gosport was trained as a facilitator. She, was offered the chance of four two-hour sessions over four weeks. Little Waves provided a crèche for three of the sessions, and Woodward Lewis mentored and sponsored Jez through the programme.
She devised a four-stage programme to match the four active stages of positive deviance and, again with the help of Little Waves, set out to recruit her own group to go through it.

Jez  found the traditional ways of recruiting volunteers, such as leaflets and advertisements, left her with no volunteers the week before the programme was due to start. She therefore used her social networking expertise to put the word out on Facebook. How she did it was important – she used her status and her own network, and they passed the word on to their contacts. By the first session, she had eight participants, who between t