Researchers compared two phases of the Government’s £5m Can Parent pilot, launched in April 2012, and found the withdrawal of £100 vouchers harmed the scheme’s popularity.
The subsidy was scrapped in 2014, part way through the three-year trial, and providers had to either seek funding from parents or community organisations.
The researchers said the number of providers actively providing classes then more than halved to four.
Due to the lack of classes on offer the number of parents enrolling in phase two was just 164 - compared with 2,956 during phase one, the study found. Critics considered the earlier larger figure to be low in itself, reflecting just 5 per cent of eligible parents.
Professor Geoff Lindsay, who led the University of Warwick study, said, ‘The trial indicated that parents are keen to attend classes and those who did were overwhelmingly positive about their experience. However the number of parents participating dropped when the number of providers decreased from 12 to six following removal of funding worth £100 per parent.
‘The classes provided during both phases helped improve parents’ confidence in their parenting skills. They reported the sessions have led to changes in their behaviour, with positive impact on their children.
‘In addition mothers and fathers said they would recommend them to friends and many have done so. This indicates the importance of gaining and maintaining momentum as a key factor in the successful expansion of the uptake of the sessions. However parents in phase 1 were reluctant to pay for classes.’
The report recommends that local and central government recognise the positive value of parenting classes and suggests local authorities and and local health providers could boost the service by offering support, the researchers advised.
An interim report in 2013 raised a number of concerns with how the scheme had been run, such as difficulties parents had with accessing classes, and how vouchers were marketed.
Signalling the problems at this time, Montessori St Nicholas also pulled out of the scheme in Camden, frustrated by bureaucracy and low take-up.
Vouchers were available to all mothers, fathers and carers with a child aged five or under, living in three areas around the UK – Camden in north London, High Peak in Derbyshire and Middlesbrough in the northeast.
After the Prime Minister announced the latest push earlier this month, it was reported that the Department of Work and Pensions, who would be running any scheme, did not yet have the details.