18 June 2024

Taking parenting seriously would pay off


As the nation approaches the ballot box and political TV debates dominate the airwaves, one crucial topic has been conspicuously absent from the discourse – parenting.

The main parties have of course announced a raft of different proposals that address the challenges faced by working parents. They are offering to revisit policies on everything from childcare to parental leave. The Conservatives also want to make the taxation of child benefit more family-friendly

Yet parenting itself barely registers on the political radar. That is despite this vital task affecting every aspect of childhood and adult life: from a child’s development and mental wellbeing to their socio-economic opportunities and educational attainment. I work for Triple P, a parenting programme based on more than three decades of evidence, now operating in 25 countries, and we have seen the difference the right advice can make.

Imagine the transformative impact if a political party were to commit to a comprehensive policy of parenting support. Such a move could significantly improve the lives of children and families across the country, and would offer parents the help they need.

It is time for parenting to be back on the political agenda.

At the outset of his premiership, Rishi Sunak stated he would build a society that values families. Yet, reading through his party’s 78-page manifesto, parenting support once again appears to be a political afterthought.

While I welcome his commitment to deliver Family Hubs in every local authority area in England, this alone won’t address the numerous issues facing parents.

A fantastic initiative, Family Hubs provide support and information to families through a range of services such as perinatal mental health support, infant feeding advice, support for home learning and parenting support. But they are only effective if there is uptake of their services.

Our polling has shown that while most parents feel parenting is the most important job they will ever do, 75% nonetheless feel a stigma attached to asking for help. When parents do seek assistance, two-thirds of parents don’t know where to find it, and more than a third turn to online forums such as Facebook or Mumsnet rather than evidence-based support.

A national, digital rollout of evidence-based parenting programmes could be a game-changer. It would provide parents with the strategies and confidence  required to cope with modern parenting challenges in a way that is most convenient to them – from the comfort of their own home and online. This would also help to de-stigmatise and normalise the process of seeking help, and benefit those who might not want to seek advice in a group setting.

Australia has already provided the blueprint. In 2022, the Australian government launched a nationwide rollout of online parenting programmes, and it was a resounding success. Over 290,000 parents and carers have accessed online support to date. Those who used the service reported that they were notably calmer, more confident, and that it had a positive impact on their parent-child relationship, and their family as a whole.

The UK government can replicate Australia’s success and launch an evidence-based programme that will reach hundreds of thousands of families across the country each year for as little as £25 million per year.

Of course, taxpayers are under pressure right now, and any new spending must be carefully costed. However, every £1 spent on evidence-based parenting support is estimated to deliver between £3 and £5.50 of savings to the public sector, through reduced spend on health, education, crime and anti-social behaviour – a clear indication of its potential benefits.

What’s more, modelling estimates that 60% of the costs of parenting support are recovered within two years through public sector savings, with all costs recovered within five years. In other words, all the costs would be recovered in a single parliament.

Investing in an online rollout can also effectively combat pressing parental issues from getting kids off their screens to managing anxiety.

We have found that over two-thirds of parents – 69% – have noticed adverse effects in their children if they spend too much time looking at screens, and nearly half are concerned about how much time their children spend on digital devices.

In order to combat these growing concerns, the Conservatives have pledged to ban the use of mobile phones in classrooms. Their acknowledgement of the issue and demonstration of taking action should be applauded. However, given the difficulties that enforcing this policy would bring, a far more effective strategy would be to provide parents with the tools to tackle the issue in their own families.

If Rishi Sunak wants to close the gap in the polls, and honour his commitment to families, offering evidence-based parenting support is an excellent place to start. It doesn’t just make moral sense; it makes fiscal and electoral sense.

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Matt Buttery is CEO of Triple P UK & Ireland and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Warwick.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.