Opinion: To the Point - New help for parents

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Two Green Papers on families and relationships were published last week - Support for All by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and Green Paper on the Family by the Conservatives' Centre for Social Justice.

Both papers recognise the importance of early intervention, and the vulnerability of families at the point of separation and divorce.

The Conservatives' much-publicised plans for extending health visitors' roles include appointing individuals who do not have a nursing background. They propose 'family hubs', which Sure Start Children's Centres will morph into. In addition to the more usual family support services, these centres will also provide family and couple therapy and family law advice and information services.

Support for All, in addition to majoring on couple-relationship support to an extent never before seen in Labour family policy, addresses the work/family interface, proposing additional support for flexible working and paid leave for fathers to look after children in the first year, when mothers have returned to work.This Paper reveals a thorough understanding of fathers' roles in families, and is mindful of strategies needed to engage them. Proposals include a Royal College of Midwives guidance to be developed with the Fatherhood Institute. The Institute is also charged with taking forward the 'Think Fathers' network of 'Fatherhood Champions' - services, commissioners, policymakers, employers and so on, who are committed to supporting father-child relationships, and who have available to them free materials on father-inclusive practice, as well as an online facility (the 'Dad Test') to assess and improve their own capabilities in this area (register by e-mailing champions@fatherhoodinstitute.org).

The Institute will also publish an annual report to monitor and analyse how and why fatherhood is changing in this country, with recommendations for further policy development.

On the basis of these Green Papers, we are hopeful that, whatever the composition of the incoming administration, the next ten years of family policy making will build on new understandings of the changing roles that mothers and fathers are playing at work and at home - and the importance of the quality and stability of their relationships for children's outcomes.

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