New Foundation Years vision statement puts dads centre stage

20 July 2011

The Government has set out how working with fathers will be more central than ever for providers of maternity and early years services, in its new vision statement for the Foundation Years.

In Supporting Families in the Foundation Years, the Department for Education and Department of Health outline their plans for services to support children and families, from pregnancy through to the age of five.

The document describes how the Government plans to promote child development and family health by:

• increasing the health visitor workforce so that the Healthy Child Programme is fully and consistently implemented to meet families’ needs

• introducing a reformed and slimmer Early Years Foundation Stage from September 2012 with a greater focus on engagement with parents

• retaining a national network of Sure Start Children’s Centres

• addressing the social and economic differences between families by extending free early education to the most disadvantaged two year olds

• revising the Code of Practice for early education to increase flexibility and reduce bureaucracy, and

• promoting quality and diversity across early education and childcare.

Within this context, the Government makes clear that promotion of good parenting is crucial, citing evidence that:

• parents who combine high levels of parental warmth with high levels of supervision are more likely to have children at age five who are confident, autonomous and empathetic

• more parents split up in the first years after the birth of a child than at any other time, and that

• when the father is involved in the care of a child early on, couples are almost a third less likely to split up.

The document stresses both mothers’ and fathers’ importance as educators, making clear that when fathers and mothers talk, play, read, paint, investigate numbers and shapes or sing with their children it has a positive effect on children’s later development – and that mums’ and dads’ involvement in reading is the most important determinant of their child’s early language and literacy skills.

There is an emphasis throughout Supporting Families on supporting shared parenting, and it makes clear that from pregnancy onwards, all professionals should consider the needs and perspective of both parents – and should think about how better to engage fathers in all aspects of their child’s development and decisions affecting their child.

The document also emphasises the importance of relationship breakdown, pointing out that this can lead to, amongst other things, fathers’ disengagement from parenting. The Government is funding a number of initiatives, including several involving the Fatherhood Institute, to trial relationship support sessions for mums and dads.

The Family Justice Review, set to report in the autumn, has as an underpinning principle that the positive involvement of both parents post separation should be encouraged – and reforms to the child maintenance system are likely to increase demand from separating and separated parents for the support they need to make their own family-based arrangements. The Government also makes clear that it wants more mothers and fathers to have access to high quality parenting programmes.

Read the document in full here: Supporting families in the foundation years.

Read the evidence base for the Government’s new vision.

Visit the new Foundation Years website and sign up to receive updates from September 2011.

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