David Cameron has strong views about the family; often ones that ought to remain inside his head. He quite is keen on marriage and good parenting, but how to make this into a government policy? He offers some thoughts in his speech today. His words:
‘In the end, getting parenting and the early years right isn’t just about the hardest-to-reach families; it’s about everyone. We all have to work at it. And if you don’t have a strong support network – if you don’t know other mums or dads – having your first child can be enormously isolating… Of course [kids] don’t come with a manual, but is it right that all of us get so little guidance? We’ve made progress. We’ve dramatically expanded the number of health visitors, and that is crucial. But that just deals with one part of parenting – the first few weeks and months. What about later on, when it comes to play, communication, behaviour and discipline? We all need more help with this – the most important job we’ll ever have. So I believe we now need to think about how to make it normal – even aspirational – to attend parenting classes.’
Lucky old us: Big Brother’s parenting classes. The problem is: can such lessons be effectively delivered by the state? We don’t need to wonder. As you might expect, the idea of State Parenting has been pioneered in Scotland where the NHS embarked on what they called the ‘Triple P’ programme for errant Glaswegian parents. The below bumf, from 2009, promised to…
‘Give parents their parenting wings to fly, rather than flap on instruction. It’s about engagement, encouragement and empowerment of families to address common social, emotional and behavioural problems.’
Just what David Cameron seems to offer. The problem is that, as a Glasgow University evaluation established, Triple P didn’t work, and the sorry tale is relayed by the Scottish press today. As the Times’ Scottish edition says:
Last November, researchers at the University of Glasgow found that it had made minimal impact on families from deprived backgrounds and may even have increased social inequality because of the high drop-out rate.
Fewer than half of families completed the programme and those with severe problems were the most likely to drop out.
Anyway, I daresay there will be a lot of good ideas in Cameron’s speech today. But government-sponsored parenting isn’t one of them.