Press release

Helping parents to parent

This research brings together evidence on parenting behaviours and the extent to which public policy can support parents.

Public policy can have an impact on parenting behaviour and achieve positive outcomes for children, but there is currently a lack of evidence on what works, according to new research by the Social Mobility Commission.

The report says that parenting interventions can be successful - particularly those that focus on parenting styles, the creation of a supportive home learning environment, relationships within the family and parental stress and mental health.

Programmes can give parents a greater understanding of child development, develop parents’ confidence in their role and support both parents to become actively involved in a child’s upbringing.

The research finds that an authoritative parenting style which combines warmth with firmness in setting boundaries, secure attachment between children and parents and the provision of a supportive home learning environment can improve children’s outcomes.

It finds that programmes which offer targeted support for parents, are most effective. But these should be termed ‘universal’ to reduce stigma for those taking part and increase parental participation. Home visits were found to have moderate to high levels of success. It also concludes that highly trained and skilled practitioners, such as nurses, social workers and teachers, are crucial to the successful delivery of parenting interventions.

However, one of the report’s key findings is that there is currently a lack of long-term evidence and studies about what parenting interventions work best. The Social Mobility Commission is calling on the government to commission further research to address gaps in this area.

Figures show that, in the last decade, more than 2.5 million children in England – including over 580,000 children known to be eligible for free school meals, had not reached the government’s definition of a good level of development at the age of 5.

By the time students receive their GCSE results, around 32% of the variation in performance can be predicted based on indicators observed at, or before, the age of 5.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said:

The early years of a child’s life have a lasting impact, but there are stark differences in how ready children are for school. In the last decade, over half a million poorer children were not school ready by the age of 5.

We want the government to set a clear objective that, by 2025, every child is school ready and the child development gap has been closed. This requires every low-income family having access to high-quality childcare.

Parenting programmes also have an important role to play in reducing social inequality. But it is clear that there is currently a lack of evidence in this area. The government should commission further research to address this knowledge gap and develop a robust and consistent tool for the evaluation of parenting interventions.

Dr Barbie Clarke, Managing Director of Family Kids and Youth, which carried out the research, said:

Our research shows that public policy can have a real impact on parenting behaviours and achieve positive outcomes for children. Intervention can develop parental management skills and confidence, build healthy family relationships and enhance children’s social, behavioural and cognitive development and wellbeing.

Highly trained and skilled practitioners, such as nurses, social workers and teachers, are crucial to their successful delivery. Programmes also need to be universal, but targeted, to reduce stigma and encourage parents to take part.

The ‘Helping parents to parent’ report was commissioned by the Social Mobility Commission to bring together evidence on parenting behaviours and the extend to which public policy can support parents. It examined 28 interventions and programmes in the United Kingdom and internationally.

Successful schemes examined in the report

Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) runs in several countries and aims to improve the home literacy environment, as well as to enhance the parent-child relationship, to prepare children for school. Aimed at parents of 3- to 5-year-olds, it combines 30 sessions of home visiting and community-centre-based support over 2 years, with daily activities at home. HIPPY has been tested in 9 countries and studies have shown a positive impact on child adaptation and readiness for school.

Parenting Shops in Belgium aim to provide a one-stop ‘shop’ for a range of parenting support mechanisms. Designed to increase community cohesion and reduce parenting stress, the intervention includes parenting classes, home visits, lectures and local community initiatives such as counselling. Professional staff and some skilled volunteers offer a range of support, and the ‘shops’ have been shown to be successful in reducing family tension and difficulties.

The Incredible Years operates in several countries, targeting parents, children and teachers. The aim is to increase parents’ confidence, competence and coping strategies, and build good parent-child relationships, while helping parents build supportive networks. Delivered through videos, role play and peer support to assist problem solving, research has shown that the programme significantly improves parenting interaction and promotes children’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Key recommendations include:

  1. There is a need for highly trained practitioners to implement and deliver parenting interventions.

  2. There is a need for more family centres or single-access platforms that provide an umbrella of universal parenting support and services and are easily accessible for all families.

  3. Home visiting programmes, or those with a home visiting element, have the potential to deliver more success in improving children’s outcomes.

  4. There is a lack of long-term evidence on parenting interventions and programmes. The government should commission further research on this issue and there needs to be a robust and consistent tool for evaluation.

Notes for editors

The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body established under the Life Chances Act 2010 as modified by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the United Kingdom and to promote social mobility in England. It currently consists of 4 commissioners and is supported by a small secretariat.

The commission board currently comprises:

  • Alan Milburn (chair)
  • Baroness Gillian Shephard (deputy chair)
  • Paul Gregg, Professor of Economic and Social Policy, University of Bath
  • David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation

The functions of the commission include:

  • monitoring progress on improving social mobility
  • providing published advice to ministers on matters relating to social mobility
  • undertaking social mobility advocacy

For further information, please contact Kirsty Walker at the Social Mobility Commission by:

Published 20 February 2017