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:
â€˜In the end, getting parenting and the early years right isnâ€™t just about the hardest-to-reach families; itâ€™s about everyone. We all have to work at it. And if you donâ€™t have a strong support network â€“ if you donâ€™t know other mums or dads â€“ having your first child can be enormously isolatingâ€¦ Of course [kids] donâ€™t come with a manual, but is it right that all of us get so little guidance? Weâ€™ve made progress. Weâ€™ve dramatically expanded the number of health visitors, and that is crucial. But that just deals with one part of parenting â€“ 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 â€“ the most important job weâ€™ll ever have. So I believe we now need to think about how to make it normal â€“ even aspirational â€“ to attend parenting classes.â€™
Lucky old us: Big Brotherâ€™s parenting classes. The problem is: can such lessons be effectively delivered by the state? We donâ€™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 â€˜Triple Pâ€™ programme for errant Glaswegian parents. The below bumf, from 2009, promised toâ€¦
â€˜Give parents their parenting wings to fly, rather than flap on instruction. Itâ€™s about engagement, encouragement and empowerment of families to address common social, emotional and behavioural problems.â€™
Just what David Cameron seems to offer. The problem is that, as aÂ Glasgow UniversityÂ evaluation established,Â Triple P didnâ€™t work, and the sorry taleÂ is relayed byÂ the Scottish press today. As the Timesâ€™ 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 Cameronâ€™s speech today. But government-sponsored parenting isnâ€™t one of them.