New parents shun state relationship help


A government programme to promote family stability by helping new parents through the stresses and strains of having children has been scrapped because virtually no-one turned up.

Relationship support was offered in five trial areas across England but, in the words of an evaluation technical report published today, "after the first six months of the trials less than ten couples had participated in any of the programmes".

We might forgive the Department for Education for its grammatical howler (technically, it should be fewer than ten couples) but the programme has clearly been a bit of a horlicks. As the report puts it "although take-up was forecast to be quite slow this was much lower than expected and it was decided to end the trials in June 2013".

A clue to the failure is that relationship support "was not aimed at people with relationship problems". Instead, parents were contacted if their oldest child was under two or if their first child was due within three months. They could pick an hour-long face-to-face session or an online workshop to be completed at their own pace.

New parents We're a bit busy at the moment

One can only imagine counsellors poised to offer expert guidance on how to keep relationships healthy, the kettle boiled, a plate of digestives on hand. Days, weeks, then months drift by with virtually no new parents taking up the free offer of government-funded advice. Or even free biscuits.

After six months of no shows, ministers threw in the towel. I am waiting for the department to tell me how much it all cost. As soon as I hear, I will insert it here.

Five thousand couples were also asked to complete a questionnaire on what they thought about relationship guidance. Again, the research team was disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm. Only 23% of couples returned the forms, "a lower level of response than had been hoped for," as the evaluation puts it.

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An obvious mistake was imagining that a couple with a brand new baby... would want to give up time to participate in some state research project”

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An obvious mistake was imagining that a couple with a brand new baby, surviving on minimal sleep, and desperately trying to get the hang of nappies, would want to give up time to participate in some state research project.

There is some evidence that new parent support can be useful, but the survey suggests many don't see the point: "More agreed than disagreed that there's not much point in going on a course about relationships if your own relationship is fine".

There was general agreement in the survey that advice can be beneficial and should be available. But "over half of respondents thought that they would not have time to spend on their relationship as new parents and that parents are more likely to focus on their relationships when their children are a bit older."

These, remember, are the views of only the 23% of selected parents who were enthusiastic enough to complete the survey.

The trials were begun after ministers were convinced that interventions in the US "report statistically significant impacts on couple relationship quality". Two programmes are cited in the evaluation - Family Foundations and Couple Care for Parents.

The first, Family Foundations, is already available to couples in Britain. The DfE has devoted a page of its website to the programme. But the evidence behind it is only described as "promising" and the DfE says "there is currently no information on the programme's cost-effectiveness".

The second, Couple Care for Parents, is described by researchers at Penn State University as having "mixed results" and with an evidence base that is "unclear".

Despite the incomplete and rather lukewarm evaluation of the two programmes, the DfE decided that UK taxpayers money should be spent developing a model here. "In light of the evidence above and the positive impacts seen overseas, it was deemed appropriate to trial early intervention relationship support to new parents in the British setting," today's evaluation states.

One wonders what drove ministers to press ahead with these trials. Today's report simply says it was "in tune with the Government's commitment to promote family stability".

This particular promotion, though, has now been withdrawn.


I mentioned above that I was waiting for the DfE to tell me how much the failed scheme cost. I have now been told by them that this information is "not in the public domain".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    You don't wanna do it like that, you wanna do it like thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    If the state wants to help relationships then it best do something to ensure that ordinary decent couples who work hard have a fighting chance of keeping their head above water each month... debt stress is usually the start & end of most breakdowns as couples have no resilience left to absorb other day to day worries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The epitome of the state taking control of its "subjects".

    Being a citizen has rights as well as responsibilities.
    Looking after your children so they do not need state interference helps the children remain independent.

    Giving over more and more responsibility to the state leads to an authoritarian state and less freedom for individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Re 59
    What rubbish. Social Workers do an unbelievably difficult job which they nearly always get right. Your attitude suggests you would do a terrible job!

  • Comment number 59.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    26.Cheddy - "...I'm certainly for some sorta financial restriction on future parents, e.g. set up a trust fund with a minimum amount imposed. It's not about one's "right to breed" (no one has a right to breed btw..."

    Actually I think any consenting couple DO have the right to 'breed', what they shouldn't have is the right/expectation that anyone else will have to help them support their offspring

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    People will stay away from Social Workers they are interfering busy bodies who snatch children.

    Child Protection Services in the UK exist to do nothing more than meet the Government Targets so that they get big fat bonuses.

    See the other News Story of the woman forced to have a C-Section and then her child is snatched.

    This is NOT a 1 off this happens EVERY DAY in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Given the austerity programme, its hard to understand how tosh like this gets the go-ahead in the first place.

    Obviously no desperate need for relationship support from new parents existed (or if it does the scheme failed completely to find it), so how could this have been considered a good use of tax-payers money when 'all' other services are being cut?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Yet another waste of money, looks like the Nanny of the Nanny state has been show the door.
    Yet they are still trying their best to destroy family life, wages not enough to support families, prices of food, transport,heating,water et al accelerating.
    Education failing, in fact the only positive thing is Bankers have got bonuses back on track, Bolly all round then !

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    If this government is so keen to help parents, why is it that, since 2010, funding for Sure Start has been cut by 40%? The scheme was properly evaluated as being of great help and support and did some very good work. It cost money, though. But not nearly as much as it is still costing us to fund the banking fiasco. But again, to those that have shall yet more be given. The rest . . . ? Nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Re 38. HilaryJ "So because 2 people of the same sex will be able to marry that upsets the stability of existing married couples? How?"

    Because children need a man and a woman to parent them: they need to benefit from the incredible synergy produced when male and female become one: two men can't achieve this, nor can two women. They may be brilliant in all sorts of other ways but not in this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    'If the government REALLY wanted to promote relationship stability, they would ensure that the minimum wage earned by one adult is sufficient to support 2 adults, 2.2 children and a home!!!'

    Indeed - and they would also ensure that any motivated adult could find a job and a home - preferably without long commutes or working away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Probably needed more "outreach workers"... Never mind

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I watch my daughters with their children in awe: the level of involvement and real relationship is wonderful. I was an unwanted baby to a couple who just made it through WWII and had no emotional energy left. My wife and I determined to break the generational cycle of poor parenting in our families, and by Gods grace our children grew up whole (they told us recently). It was SO worth it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    What else can you expect from a low IQ population who are spiritually corrupt ?. The current regime should of course make attendance mandatory and apply punitive sanctions for non attendance.

    Wasting public money indeed, broken society, wasters, benefit cheats, price of gas....mutter mutter rant while swivelling eyes...

  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    We are the government. We are here to help you.

    The only reply from anyone intelligent is "F*** off".

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I would never seek advice from someone using the word "intervention."
    My, how these experts love reducing complex issues to simplistic theories based on buzzwords.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I don't think there's any reason to criticise the decision to have this trial. It was perhaps an optimistic idea, but if you don't try it, you'll never know how it could have gone.

    Also, I think relationship advice might benefit couples even when they have no obvious problem, particularly by teaching ways to deal with problems as they arise. Prevention is ALWAYS cheaper than cure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    This shouldv'e been made compulsory for all unmarried couples and if they failed to attend the child should be taken from them. Another missed chance! :(


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