£4m pledged for parenting classes

The government has pledged £4 million to appoint 77 parenting experts to help families in disadvantaged areas bring up their children.

Tony Blair said the “overwhelming majority of parents” would welcome outside help in dealing with problems with their children – and said the whole community would benefit.

Parents would be encouraged to attend classes voluntarily, but the head of the government’s respect task force, Louise Casey, said they would be forced if necessary.

Writing in The Sun today, Mr Blair said that when parents could not control their offspring, “the children suffer and we all suffer”.

“No one’s talking about interfering with normal family life. But life isn’t normal if you’ve got 12-year-olds out every night, drinking and creating a nuisance on the street, with their parents not knowing or even caring,” he wrote.

“In these circumstances, a bit of nannying, with sticks and carrots, is what the local community needs, let alone the child. The cost to society of a child going off the rails can run into tens of thousands of pounds.”

Home secretary John Reid warned at the weekend that the cost to public services of a child with behavioural problems was £70,000 by the time they reached 28 – ten times the norm.

A Mori poll for the Home Office finds 53 per cent of voters believe inappropriate parenting is the biggest cause of anti-social behaviour. A further four-fifths believe parents should be held responsible for the misbehaviour of their children.

Today Mr Reid said: “This is about acting responsibly and recognising that good parenting can be learnt, bringing benefits to all. Intervention from public services helps not just the child, but the family and the local community too.”

The proposed new parenting experts would be able to step in to help parents who were struggling, either through one-to-one support or in group sessions. The government has also published new advice today, written by parents themselves.

“All parents know how difficult the job is. That’s why most parents are only too happy to know help is around,” Mr Blair wrote.

Ms Casey told BBC One’s Breakfast this morning that nine times out of ten, parents were happy to take part in classes voluntarily – all they needed was the “right wake-up call”. However, she stressed those who did not could be forced.

Clare Tickell, chief executive of children’s charity NCH, said some parents would welcome the new support but stressed they should not be made to “feel like failures”.

“All parents, even parents who are struggling, have strengths that can be built on,” she said, adding: “The government has seen this in action and knows the benefits but punitive and compulsory approaches are not the answer – they just exacerbate problems further.”