Parenting programmes boost children's outcomes

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Policymakers should not ‘shy away’ from telling mothers and fathers how to be good parents, the Social Mobility Commission has stated.


Health Excercise and Nutrition for the Really Young (HENRY) is a UK intervention programme

Released exclusively to Nursery World, its new report, Helping Parents Parent, concludes that parenting has a significant influence on children’s outcomes.

It analyses evidence from parenting programmes in the UK and around the world and examines how public policy can support parents, particularly in the early years.
The report argues parenting programmes and interventions should be available to all parents regardless of background.

It says an authoritative parenting style combining warmth with clear boundaries – alongside secure attachment between children and parents and a supportive home learning environment – can lift outcomes.

The report analysed 28 programmes available to all parents and not targeted at specific groups. The literature review was commissioned by the Social Mobility Commission to bring together evidence on parenting behaviours and examine the extent to which public policy supports parents.

Dr Barbie Clarke, managing director of Family Kids & Youth, which carried out the research, said the report showed that public policy can have a real impact on parenting behaviours and achieve positive outcomes for children.

Global research

Parenting programmes and interventions can develop parental management skills and confidence, build healthy family relationships and enhance children’s social, behavioural and cognitive development and well-being, the report says.

Dr Clarke said, ‘We argue there should be more of them. Every parent needs help. It’s back-up for all parents. That’s really key. Programmes also need to be universal to reduce stigma and encourage parents to take part.’

Several of the interventions looked at delivered ‘targeted’ services under the umbrella term ‘universal’ in order to get more parents involved. A localised approach can also help to enhance engagement in programmes, the researchers concluded.

The report also says that highly trained and skilled practitioners, such as nurses, social workers and teachers, are crucial to programmes’ successful delivery.

The report examined programmes in 13 countries including the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, the US and Australia. Some programmes, such as The Incredible Years and Families and Schools Together, run in several countries.

Dr Clarke said, ‘When we look at all ratings for children’s well-being, Scandinavia and Belgium come out very highly. What do their interventions look like?’

The report says programmes that 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.

‘In our report we look a lot at the effects on children of challenging family circumstances, when we need parents to be supported. Having these quite simple local interventions widely available for all families will help parents and social mobility.’

The UK has limited social mobility compared with other OECD countries, the report says. Dr Clarke added that there was more of an emphasis now on parenting programmes.

The Early Intervention Foundation has also published a list of parenting programmes.

Asked how the Social Mobility Commission’s report fits with theirs, Dr Clarke said of the EIF’s ‘excellent’ report, ‘Ours is very much about parents and how they can be supported and helped, whereas [the EIF’s] was more about what’s good for children in the early years.

‘We know early years is key. Ours is about parents’ stress, mental health, how parents can create a home learning environment to benefit the child. We’re very much looking at social mobility, to allow children to have the best possible outcomes throughout life.’

She added, ‘The EIF report and ours find a lack of research has been done in terms of longitudinal outcomes. There’s a real lack of evidence, because [research] is mostly not done over the long term, so we can’t say x, y and z helps children’s social mobility.

‘There needs to be longitudinal research on what are undoubtedly effective interventions to find out how they support children’s outcomes.’

According to the Social Mobility Commission, in the past decade more than 2.5 million children in England – including more than 580,000 children eligible for free school meals – had not reached the Government’s definition of good development by age five.

By the time pupils receive their GCSE results, around 32 per cent of variation in performance can be predicted based on indicators observed at, or before, age five.

Labour MP Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said, ‘The early years 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 age five. 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 there is a dearth of evidence. The Government should commission further research to address this knowledge gap and develop a robust and consistent tool for the evaluation of parenting interventions.


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 three- to five-year-olds, it combines 30 sessions of home visiting and community-centre-based support over two years, with daily at-home activities. HIPPY has been tested in nine countries, and studies show 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 parental 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 has run in several countries, targeting parents, children and teachers. The aim is to increase parents’ confidence, competence and coping strategies, and to 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 well-being.

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