To the point - Prevention not cure


David Cameron's recent turn to domestic policy with his 'Can Parent' classes is to be welcomed. Repositioning parenting classes as support for all, rather than a penalty for 'poor parents' is a good first step to encourage uptake. The next will be to ensure the service reaches the vulnerable, as well as the proactive.

Despite the traditional Conservative stance attacking Nanny-stateism, this approach shows a degree of continuity. A further example is Nurse Family Partnerships (NFPs). Both involve state involvement in the domestic sphere, but they also reflect cross-party consensus on the importance of personal responsibilityand early intervention.

NFPs are a success story of prevention-not-cure policy. Developed in the US in the 1970s, NFPs offer frequent, lengthy home visits to eligible first-time mothers. Currently being trialled across the UK, specially trained nurses spend time with families from early pregnancy until the child is two. Early findings show positive outcomes for vulnerable families, and the Government has committed to double its coverage to 13,000 places by 2015.

Extensive research in the past three decades has shown a raft of significant benefits for families involved in this programme, with reported improvements in language development, academic achievement, antenatal health and parenting practices. They also show increases in fathers' involvement and mothers' employment as well as reductions in welfare use and criminal behaviour among both children and mothers.

If NFPs are to be rolled out nationally it is critical they remain high-quality and relationship-driven, rather than becoming watered down as coverage increases - a tempting option given the extensive up-front costs and delayed savings.

In an era of tight public spending, it's imperative we consider now what other long-term preventative solutions might exist to improve people's lives and reduce burdens on the state. We must be ruthless about cutting services without real impact, to invest funds where they can make real change in families' lives.

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