Health and early years services must do more to engage with dads, says Early Intervention Review

21 January 2011

Early Intervention: Next Steps – a review of early intervention services by Graham Allen MP, presented to the Government on 19 January, made several recommendations which mentioned the importance of better engagement with dads.

These were: 

12. The range of interventions is wide and varied – some are universal and some highly targeted. We can help our children by building better attunement and developing their empathy; by showing interest in them and using rich and positive language; by supporting maternal mental health; and by discouraging substance misuse. To take just one example, it is possible to engage vulnerable parents in order to improve the home learning environment9 which should not be seen as the responsibility of the mother alone. Children whose fathers are involved in their learning do better at school and have better mental health, even after other factors such as fathers’ socioeconomic status and education have been taken out of the equation.

17. Pregnancy and the postnatal period are key times for early interventions. It is when expectant mothers are motivated to learn and want to do the best for their child. In the 2010 survey of women’s experiences of maternity services, the Care Quality Commission found that 38 per cent of women reported not being offered any antenatal classes. Health and early years services need to do more to ensure that expectant mothers and fathers are offered high-quality community-based preparation for parenthood that includes learning about the needs of babies during pregnancy and early life and how to make the successful transition to parenthood.

27. The quality of a child’s relationships and learning experiences in the family has more influence on future achievement than innate ability, material circumstances or the quality of pre-school and school provision.. Therefore, parents need to have time for those positive experiences with their children, and this means that we need to consider a move to a more generous and flexible maternity and paternity benefit system, and flexible working practices. . . In Sweden, working parents are entitled to share 16 months of parental leave and at least two months need to be taken by the minority parent – the one taking the least of the 16 months (usually the father) – to encourage his or her involvement in child rearing. The first 390 days are paid at approximately 80 per cent of previous income. There is also the flexibility to go back to work part-time, and top up income with the benefit. The cost is shared between the employer and the state. It is clear that moving towards a more generous system would be unacceptably expensive at the moment. However, given the exceptional and lasting importance of the first period of any child’s life, and the huge savings resulting from getting this right, I am convinced that parental leave arrangements should be a top priority for the redistribution of existing spending or new public expenditure in more favourable times. I suggest that serious consideration is given to the proposals, to be consulted on this spring in an interdepartmental government consultation paper, for a system of flexible parental leave which enables parents to take more of their entitlement. However, thinking further ahead, I recommend the formation of a broad-based all-party review to examine options and cost benefits to move the UK towards Swedish standards of parental leave, as resources allow, within a realistic timescale.

31. In the US the Nurse Family Partnership is the example which Early Intervention models are judged by. It benefits those children born to firsttime mothers with low psychological resources, in particular teenage mothers living in poverty. The programme has 30 years of evidence to back it up in the US and has been implemented successfully in England over the last four years, where it is called the Family Nurse Partnership programme. The FNP is a preventive programme of structured home visiting for young first-time mothers, provided by specially trained nurses, from early pregnancy until their child is 2 years of age. The FNP offers high-intensity support through home visits, using methods to build self-efficacy and promote attachment and positive parenting with practical activities that change behaviour and tackle the emotional problems that prevent some mothers and fathers caring well for their children. It has been particularly successful in connecting with those most disaffected with and distrustful of services.

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