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.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote

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".

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    If i ever had problems when my son was a baby i would ask my mother or another family member or a close friend,not the government,that is not their job!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Let me get this straight: "government program to promote family stability by helping new parents through the stresses & strains of having children has been scrapped because virtually no-one turned up."
    No kidding! (Pardon the pun.)
    Does Govt demonstrate such quality leadership parents would want govt "counselors" poised on their doorsteps to offer quality guidance on family relationships?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    'New parents shun state relationship help'. Of course they do. I can show you entire sink estates in west london where new parents give birth specifically for tax payer subsidised property, energy, appliances and others hand outs. Relationship status does not factor into their reciept of the above tax-payer funded robbery, so why would they bother going?

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The rearing of children is a great responsibility and parenting lessons should be provided in school under the health and social care classes by health workers, perhaps to all fifth formers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    What people need to remember, is that in a few decades, the retired grandparents helping with child care now, will be in full time work in the future and unable to provide child care. As the retirement age increases and the need to work longer to build up their pension pots.

    Whats the plan for when that happens?

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    There used to be a time when only one parent had to work, to earn a living wage.
    Now both parents need to work, to earn a living wage.

    Due to expensive child minders, grandparents provide the support needed

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Few people care about bringing up children properly now. They don't realise what a massive responsibility it actually is. They maybe think it's a "cute" thing to do but they also want to continue their lifestyle, which just isn't possible.

    Add to this the fact that most children born these days are unplanned and you have a largely dysfunctional generation.

    The human race is doomed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    People dont want government issue drones for children, they want to be able to comfortably bring their own children up in the way they want without forced finacial restraint or an unwanted government finger in their lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    I have erected a sign that says
    "Less than ten items". on the top, below it in the same size font, I have written
    "Fewer than ten items".

    It hardly matters until someone comes up with eleven items.

    is -11 more or less than -12?

    I think -12 is more minus than -11 and -11 is greater(debt) than -12.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Government - think hard before you roll out useless schemes and waste our taxes. Most of us live in a different world from you anyway...

    In any case, most of us can talk to our long-term partners once a baby is born, we are not morons - but perhas this should be brought in as an option for couples where one parent is reluctant to accept responsibility...

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    So, no one wants to be given unasked for advice and extra meddling in their relationship courtesy of the government? Not entirely surprising.

    But that does not mean it wasn't worth a try. Sometimes, it's worth doing a small pilot to see if something could offer value.
    Problem = When a pilot scheme becomes widespread, on a temporary basis before becoming "Legal and Compulsory"

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    This scheme is very like the idea proposed in the Second World War when an officer suggested that returning aircraft should be surveyed with a view to putting armour in the sites of most bullet holes.

    It was left to a humble A/C Mechanic to point out that they were looking only at aircraft which had returned as the bullets had not done catastrophic damage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Mr Easton - I never fail to find your blog absolutely fascinating. Thank you. You shine a light on so many corners of public policy that are ignored. Whether I agree or disagree with your views, it never ceases to intrigue me what you have dug up. You are worth every penny of the license fee.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    1 Hour ago
    Less is correct,not fewer..


    Use "fewer" for units that are counted as indivisible items (Integers)

    Use "less" for items that are divisible into sub-unity quantities (Reals)

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    @77empiredown,97, 106 (cont)
    LibDem MP John Hemming also campaigns on this subject

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    There is an entirely misplaced faith in counsellors of all types. Of course it can help to talk over problems with a relative or friend but it has become the official answer to any number of scenarios to provide professional counselling.

    In almost all cases it would be better to spend the money on more practical help. I would prefer a free pint at the pub.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    So, no one wants to be given unasked for advice and extra meddling in their relationship courtesy of the government? Not entirely surprising.

    But that does not mean it wasn't worth a try. Sometimes, it's worth doing a small pilot to see if something could offer value. I'm not sure it's fair to criticise pilot projects that fail: the point of doing pilots is to find out which ideas don't fail,

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Social workers have got themselves a bad reputation for 'stealing babes' and so a needy family is hardly likely to turn to them for help. Would you complete a form that might put your child at risk of child thieves?..
    Christopher Brooker (T/graph)
    writes a lot on this heinous subject.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    The opposite is true...
    Inadequate parents ie most of us, have no intention of letting the do-gooders (usually a Labour govt.) pry into our lives

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    What a tremendously negative article. This pilot was trying to address serious issues of high levels of relationship breakdown in the early years of having children, and all that goes with that. Your article is just being smug about a something that might have been better targetted and tries to make cheap points about the costs of it, which you admit you don't even know.


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