Students Staff

Support for parents

We know that being a working parent brings challenges and our goal is to provide a supportive environment which will allow our colleagues to flourish as parents and as members of the University. We offer several schemes to provide help and advice.

Our Parents' Support Network is a group of working parents with shared interests and responsibilities who offer each other informal peer support on topics such as managing the transition back to work and the challenges of being a working parent. All mums and dads are welcome, including mums and dads to be and grandparents.

”When you return to work after a period of leave it can be hard to manage both your own and others’ expectations about how you will juggle your family and career. I would have found it very helpful to talk through some of the difficult decisions and transitions you have to make in confidence and with someone who had already been through it.”
Mother of a 19-month-old
Parents' Network steering group

Members of the Parents' Network Steering Group.

How to join

If you'd like to join the Parents' Support Network, and receive regular updates on upcoming events, please subscribe.

Join our online Parent’s Support Network community to chat with other staff parents, provide supportive advice, share useful web links and useful articles and meet other like-minded people. If you're having difficulty accessing the online Network please contact Alex O’Neill The Network can only be accessed by University of Essex staff and you must await approval from the owners before you can view the site.


We meet one lunchtime a month for an hour and alternate between informal networking sessions, with a coffee and a chat, and organised presentations on a variety of parenting topics. Our hope is that this support system will also go beyond a one hour meeting once a month with colleagues establishing their own networks and friendship groups. Coffee and tea are provided. Please feel free to bring your lunch! Meetings are normally held at Colchester but sessions at Southend and Loughton can be provided on request.

Next meeting

The next meeting is to be confirmed.

The Learning and Development department have further details of these and all the workshops they run for staff.

Previous meetings

Find out about a variety of meetings we've previously held, showing the sort of topics we cover in each session.

  • Effects of childhood events in early and mid-adulthood

    Dr Cara Booker, Research Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research here at the University, spoke to the network about the links between childhood events and employment and health outcomes in adulthood. It was discussed whether parental relationships or employment states have an impact on one’s own employment or health in adulthood.

  • Parents' Network children's christmas party

    The Parents' Network steering group is happy to invite you and your children (suggested age range: 2 - juniors) to this year's Parents' Network christmas party. This free event is for members of our University only.

    If you would like to attend, please email Therese Pagel so that we can estimate attendance levels. We're still looking for people who would like to supervise some of the crafting tables, so if you would like to help, please get in touch with Therese.

  • Maths Arcade: try maths and logic games for children (3+) and adults

    The Talent Development Centre are providing a session about maths and logic games for children and adults. Use this opportunity to try out games for all age groups (3+) and to get ideas from other parents too.

    The games can be played in a mathematical-themed social environment and if you'd like to further your mathematical thinking. The best strategies and rules modifications can also be analysed. We have a small collection of games including Mancala, Othello, Pentago and Quarto.

    If you want to know more about these games or are looking for an alternative Christmas gift for your children, do join us for this session. Feel free to bring your lunch. Tea and coffee will be provided. You don't need to book.

  • The younger the better: how does age relate to language learning?

    Professor Florence Myles from Language and Linguistics will be speaking to the network about 'The younger the better: how does age relate to language learning?".

    We often hear that young children are like sponges as far as language learning is concerned, and that as long as they're exposed to languages very early on, they will just pick them up. But is that really true in all contexts? In this talk, we will explore the relationship between language learning in young children and the context of learning, eg in bilingual families, but also in educational settings such as after-school clubs or primary classrooms.

    Join Florence and fellow University parents to discuss this issue. Feel free to bring your lunch. You don't need to book for this session.

  • Mastery over mindset: How can you motivate your children to learn maths?

    The University’s Parents’ Support Network (for parents and parents-to-be) is happy to announce that Dr Alexei Vernitski, a senior lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Essex, will be speaking to the Network about Mastery over mindset: How can you motivate your children to learn maths?

    Approximately 30 years ago Carol Dweck started a series of psychological experiments which eventually revealed new astonishing facts about what motivates or demotivates learners. This research has grown into what today is usually called mindset theory (with “growth mindsets” as its main concept). Naturally, educators inspired by mindset theory try to apply it to their teaching practice in general and to teaching specific subjects in particular. Now is an exciting time in both school education and university education, when ideas related to mindset theory transform lessons and lectures and make lives of pupils and students easier and happier. This happens at the same time as more traditionally-thinking educators try to impose more conservative practices on UK schools, with the best intentions and with some justification.

    Alexei and his colleague Dr Sherria Hoskins research is based on the effects of these teaching methods on learning mathematics.

    We will be discussing questions such as:

    • Which theory makes lives of pupils and students easier and happier?
    • What are the advantages and disadvantages of these theories?
    • How can you motivate my children to learn maths more effectively?

    Join Alexei and fellow University parents to discuss this issue. Feel free to bring your lunch. You do not need to book for this session.

  • Celebrating difference

    At any primary school there are children growing up in different kinds of families but all families have a lot in common. In the same way that all families are different, children can be different too. Two in five primary school teachers say pupils experience homophobic bullying in their school for being perceived as 'different' or for having gay parents.

    Left unchallenged, homophobic language and bullying can stop children from being themselves and feeling proud and comfortable with who they are and who their family are.

    During this session, Karen Stephenson from Equality and Diversity, discussed central issues and heard views.

  • Is fitness more important than fatness in child health?

    Dr Gavin Sandercock, Reader in Sport and Exercise Science and Director of Sports Science spoke to the Network about why focusing on child fitness is more important than focusing on child obesity.

    Topics discussed included:

    • does this seem like an epidemic?
    • does the public health's continual focus on food and obesity leave the more harmful effects of inactivity overlooked, and does it ignore the role of physical fitness in health promotion and monitoring?
    • is inactivity a better predictor of ill health than obesity?
    • does your child engage in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes a day?
    • are a wide-ranging set of changes needed to help children be more active, more often?

  • If money does not buy your child happiness, what does?

    Dr Gundi Knies, Research Fellow in ISER gave a talk about how children in the UK rank very low on life satisfaction compared to their peers in other countries. Are the high child poverty rates in the UK to blame? What other factors are important?

    Topics discussed included:

    • how satisfied children are with their lives and how this varies by age and gender
    • links between child satisfaction and the material wellbeing of the household
    • what one thing children would change in their life to make it better

  • Baby/Infant Development (Essex Babylab)

    Dr Silvia Rigato, Lecturer in Psychology talked about how infants learn to perceive and act on the world around them by combining and interpreting their senses, and how researchers at the University Babylab study young babies and their amazing skills.

    "Our studies take the form of games in which babies look at several interesting images or events, or children are presented with different objects in more interactive situations. We always make our studies fun and interesting for the infants and children, adapting our techniques to their age. The methods we use include behavioural observation as well as more recent advance techniques such as the Event-Related Potentials, which allow us to measure the natural brain activity in response to different tasks."
    Dr Silvia Rigato, Lecturer in Psychology
  • The University Day Nursery and the Employee Assistance Programme

    Pippa Dines, General Manager of the Colchester campus Day Nursery, ran a short Q&A session about what the Nursery has to offer.

    Claire Watson, HR Officer, closed the session by giving a brief overview of the University’s new Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which is a confidential, self-referring counselling and information service that can provide assistance to staff with personal or work-related problems. As well as providing legal, financial, debt counselling and health and wellbeing support, the service also gives guidance on family, parenting issues and those that affect the young and the elderly.

  • Are fries and fizzy drinks depressing our teens?

    How often does the typical UK teen consume crisps, fizzy drinks or fast food in a week? How often does a UK teen consume fruit and vegetables in a week. Are there links between good and poor eating behaviours and happiness or emotional difficulties? Dr Cara Booker examined these questions during a lunchtime talk.

  • How connected is your child to nature?

    Dr Rachel Bragg, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences, gave a presentation on how children connect to nature and why it is important in terms of child development. Dr Bragg also gave practical suggestions on how to enhance your child's love of nature.

  • Child development

    Karla Holmboe, Research Fellow in Psychology gave a talk on why it is important to study the same children over time, what changes and what stays the same during an individual child's development as well as the factors influencing this development. She also described how the University of Essex Babylab plans to study the same children over time.

  • Mental health risks in adolescents and social media

    Dr Cara Booker, Research Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research gave a talk to the Network about the possible effects of screen-based media use on the health and well-being of adolescents.

  • Language games for children

    Dr Sonja Eisenbeiss, Lecturer in the Department of Language and Linguistics, gave a presentation on how parents can encourage their baby/toddler/child to talk and support their future language development. Dr Eisenbeiss also presented fun language games parents can play with their child to help develop their linguistic ability.

In response to feedback received via the University’s Athena SWAN and Gender Equality Charter Mark (.pdf) projects, the Equality and Diversity Team have set up the Parent Mentoring Scheme for members of staff to offer and receive mutual support and advice on pregnancy at work, maternity/paternity/adoption leave and life as a working parent.

The mentors

Parent mentors are University staff with experience of taking and returning from parental leave and being a working parent. They are volunteers from a wide range of Departments/Sections and career stages. Most mentors are female, but men are also welcome to participate in the scheme, either as a parent mentor or as a member of staff seeking support from others in a similar situation. Mentors have provided a short profile about themselves, setting out their experiences of parental leave, their top tips for other parents and their contact details.

Staff wanting a mentor can contact the person of their choice directly and ask if they are available for an informal meeting.

The scheme is open to men and women before, during and after maternity / paternity / adoption leave. Any member of staff who is considering planning, taking or returning from leave can approach any of the parent mentors (.pdf) by emailing them directly.

The University holds working parents to be seminars throughout the year.

If you are due to become a parent and would like to find out more please join us for a relaxed, informal session covering the following topics:

  • I’m pregnant – what happens next?
  • how and when should I tell my line manager?
  • protecting your health during pregnancy
  • the pros and cons of shorter and longer maternity leave
  • handing over
  • keeping in touch whilst on leave
  • childcare options
  • returning to work (and flexible working options)
  • back to work

The University has a number of policies to support staff who are parents to be.

But what about all the other questions you have when you find out you are pregnant or your partner is pregnant and all the things you didn’t even know that you needed to know? Although you will be returning to a familiar place, returning to work can bring mixed emotions. This seminar will also help you embark on the next phase of life as a working parent and is packed with top tips and advice.

Whilst the seminar is intended to focus on maternity leave, those who are adopting or taking paternity leave may find some elements useful.

As a University we have a strong commitment to equal opportunities and this means actively helping staff to combine family life with a satisfying working life.

Meeting dates

  • next lunchtime session to be confirmed and subject to demand

If you would like to know more, please contact Julia Greenwood

Career Development Fund for Carers

Following a pilot within the faculties, the “Career Development Fund for Carers” has been extended to benefit all staff. The scheme will run from 1 August 2017 to 31 July 2018, or until the funding available has been exhausted (whichever is sooner).

Through the work of Athena SWAN, it has been identified that it is often harder for working parents and carers (primarily women), to attend conferences and networking events, outside of their normal working pattern, due to additional costs. Attending these events is known to have important links with the formation of research collaborations and funding opportunities, both of which benefit the individual’s career development and the wider University community.

The University is committed to learning and promotes staff engagement in maintaining and further developing knowledge, expertise and skills, irrespective of role and career stage. Attending these events is known to have important links with the formation of research collaborations and funding opportunities, both of which benefit the individual’s career development and the wider University community.

Whilst it's recognised that caring costs are only one factor that could affect attendance at these events, the ‘Career Development Fund for Carers’, developed from actions within our University Athena SWAN action plan, was established to help relieve the pressure in some part, by helping staff with the additional caring costs incurred.

Originally, a pilot scheme within the Faculty of Science and Health, (to gauge demand and measure the impact on individuals), the scheme has been extended to cover all Academic and Professional Services staff. Concurrent to this, we will continue to explore and develop other supportive initiatives to help achieve our gender ambitions.

Applications will only be considered if the application form (.pdf) attached has been completed correctly and in full – you are therefore strongly advised to read the accompanying guidance (.pdf) attached before making your application.

Other sources of funds may also be used to support childcare for conference attendance. If you have available to you other sources of funding, for example in a personal research account, please use that in preference to making an application to this scheme, so that these funds can be used to support those most in need.

Case study

Antonia Yanxi Wu of the Department of Language and Linguistics has benefited from the Career Development Fund for Carers.