Obituary: Carolyn Douglas

CAROLYN DOUGLAS was the founding director of Exploring Parenthood (EP), a voluntary organisation set up to work with parents. She believed that all parents should have access to professionally based support systems. Through her work at EP, she was one of the key individuals instrumental in changing society's perception of the needs and role of parents, and the importance of parenting. The establishment of the National Parenting Institute earlier this year with funding from the Home Office was a culmination of Douglas's and EP's work.

She was born Carolyn Williamson in Abercynon in the Taff Valley in 1940, an only child. Educated at Mountain Ash Grammar School, she was the school's first pupil to leave Wales for higher education. She read Psychology and Social Administration at Nottingham University, where she met her husband, Stuart Douglas, and went on to do a postgraduate Diploma in Mental Health at the London School of Economics. She became a Psychiatric Social Worker at the Institute of Psychology, and in 1970 joined the Paddington Centre for Psychotherapy. It was here that she started to train in family therapy.

Increasing disillusion with traditional approaches led Douglas, along with her colleague Ruth Schmitt-Neven, to set up a new independent organisation that was committed to working in partnership with parents.

I first met Douglas in the autumn of 1983, shortly after the birth of my first child. She had recently started Exploring Parenthood and was its Co- Director. I attended a workshop for fathers run by her and Schmitt-Neven (who later moved to Australia). I was attracted by the name "Exploring Parenthood"; I wanted to think about and discuss what being a parent meant and involved beyond the initial concerns of physical care.

I had learnt how to change nappies and be the main carer. The workshop was able to articulate other concerns - how having a baby affected the relationship between the parents, how parents and especially men tried to balance work and family life; and how parents could get information and continued support in their roles. All these issues were covered. Thus started my long involvement with Carolyn Douglas and EP.

The organisation devised a way of working with parents based on respect for them and understanding their needs. A series of workshops encouraged parents to arrive at answers for themselves in a supportive environment with other parents and the help of a skilled facilitator. The workshops were held in comfortable venues with an excellent lunch. Parents were valued and felt valued. This approach arose from Douglas's ability to engage in psychodynamic thinking that was based in a practical reality.

At this time in the early Eighties EP was one of the few organisations offering support of this kind to all parents irrespective of whether they had an identified problem. Douglas and the people she attracted to work with her brought professional skills as social workers, family therapists or other disciplines. The workshops required them to make a significant mind shift in order to see parents in their totality and not as people who created problems in their children or who were inadequate in their role as parents.

In these early days Exploring Parenthood was criticised for being an organisation that served the middle classes. There was some truth in this, which troubled Douglas who had a strong sense of social justice. She understood that the social realities of people's lives had a significant effect on their ability as parents and maintained that all parents could understand and benefit from the knowledge of professionals in the childcare and mental health fields.

Her response to the criticism was to make changes so that EP could reach parents from all sectors of society. One example was the establishment of the Moyenda, a project for and run by black people, as part of EP. Other initiatives set up by Douglas included a project for parents whose children were involved in crime, a parents' advice line, projects with homeless families and support for parents at work.

In 1992, ten years after Exploring Parenthood was established, a multi- disciplinary conference was held in Westminster. One of its aims was to stimulate politicians into taking the needs of parents seriously. This was successful in that an All Party Parliamentary Group on Parenting was established with EP acting as its clerk. Douglas stopped being Director of EP in 1997 but continued to be involved in its activities. She was planning the next cycle of training courses when she died.

In many ways, Carolyn Douglas was Exploring Parenthood, its vision was her vision. She had the great skill of getting across difficult concepts in a way that parents could understand. She herself was vibrant, stylish and outspoken, an inspirational speaker in spite of her innate shyness. She was moreover almost singlehandedly responsible for changing society's understanding of the role and needs of parenting.

Steve Goode

Carolyn Maynard Williamson, family therapist: born Abercynon, Glamorgan 4 April 1940; married 1964 Stuart Douglas (one son, two daughters); died 3 September 1998.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk