The prime minister will call for a revolution in child rearing this weekend by suggesting that all parents should attend classes on how to discipline their children.
In a move likely to enrage those fearful of an encroaching “nanny state”, David Cameron will say that it should be the norm for parents to receive instruction on how to behave around their offspring.
As part of a speech on the family, Cameron will announce plans for a parenting classes voucher scheme, claiming that all parents need help and that there is too little state-sponsored guidance on offer.
“In the end, getting parenting and the early years right isn’t just about the hardest-to-reach families; it’s about everyone,” Cameron is expected to say on Monday. “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 they 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.”
Cameron will say that the government’s Life Chances Strategy – an initiative to target tackle child poverty – will include a plan for “significantly expanding parenting provision”. It will also recommend ways to incentivise all parents to take up the offer of classes.
This marks a return to the issue for the prime minister, after a former parenting class scheme ended in meltdown and embarrassment.
The £5m CanParent pilot, which the prime minister set up in three underprivileged areas following the 2011 riots, attracted just 2,956 parents, a fraction of the 20,000 expected. The scheme ended up costing £1,088 per parent, and only 9% of those attending classes were fathers or male partners. However, a study of the trial found high degrees of satisfaction among those who took part.
The government is thought to believe that a major hurdle in attracting participants was the fact that it was seen as a service for the lowest socioeconomic groups. The government hopes that if middle-class parents are encouraged to take part, perceptions and attendance from all parts of society will improve.
A Downing Street source said the idea would be for parenting sessions to have the same popularity among the middle classes as National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes. She added: “This will be separate to the previous CanParent pilots, but that work and what we learned from it will inform how we can reach more parents.”
The initiative will form one part of a strategy to place the family at the heart of the agenda for the next five years. In his speech, Cameron will say the family unit is a bulwark against poverty. He will also announce a doubling of funding for relationship counselling services.
The £70m promised to fund relationship support and couples counselling – run by the likes of Relate, Marriage Care and One Plus One – is twice the amount committed over the last parliament, where 160,000 couples were helped.
While acknowledging that there can be circumstances where it is right for a couple to split, Cameron will claim that the funding will provide “vital money” to those who need it and the opportunity to get support. The cash is expected to help at least 300,000 more couples over the next five years and train more than 10,000 professionals in preventing relationship breakdown.
Cameron will say: “Families are the best anti-poverty measure ever invented. They are a welfare, education and counselling system all wrapped up into one. Children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those whose families stay together. That’s why strengthening families is at the heart of our agenda.”
The announcement was welcomed by Relate, whose chief executive, Chris Sherwood, said: “Relationship support can help to reduce family breakdown, which is a key driver of poverty and can result in poor outcomes for children.”
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