Creating the super-nanny state

Post-It messages about last summer's riots such as "Stop burning my city"

Whenever there is some incident of juvenile delinquency or youth crime you will hear the same refrain: "Well, I blame the parents."

And the evidence is that the parents are indeed likely to have played a significant part in the anti-social behaviour of their offspring.

So should the state intervene in the upbringing of the nation's children, offering intensive support and advice to all parents? Should it play the role of surrogate nanny?

At the moment, parents who cannot control their kids may end up being ordered to take classes in good parenting by the courts. But the links with the criminal justice system mean that parenting classes have a stigma attached to them.

Start Quote

One mum told me the mandatory classes had changed her life; her children told me they had been given a new mum”

End Quote

Attendance is often poor, and those that do go represent a fraction of families who could benefit from help and advice. The support is only available after the damage has been done.

About 10 years ago, I reported on a class arranged for the parents of truants. Even though many of those due to attend had been ordered to go by a court, almost no-one turned up. I remember a huge plate of doughnuts sitting uneaten on a table.

However, one mum was there - furious that the others hadn't bothered. She explained to me that she had resented the mandatory classes at first, but how ultimately the classes had changed her life. Her children, aged about 11 and nine, told me they had been given a new mum.

So the government wants to make attending parenting classes a normal part of being a good parent - something that every new mum or dad does. All parents could benefit from some good advice, it is argued, and only by making support a mainstream part of starting a family can those who need help most be encouraged to participate.

Officer with Greater Manchester Police's "Shop a Looter" billboard Blame the parents?

To create that cultural change, they want to build the capacity for a thriving commercial market in parenting advice. If pilot schemes prove successful, free vouchers worth £100 will be given to all parents of children under five in England and Wales - available from Boots on the High Street. The idea is that, once evaluated providers are up and running, the state can pull back from universal vouchers and target state help on those with specific problems.

There is another side to this initiative too. From an expectant mother's first scan in an NHS hospital at about 12 weeks, future parents will get texts and emails linking to information films and advice directly relating to the development of their child at that point.

From conception to the first three months of life, I am told, there will more than 100 separate video or advice notifications for parents. This is an intensive programme based on strong evidence that helping parents form strong attachments to their children in the very early days and supporting them through the stresses and strains of family life can significantly improve the life chances of children.

Experts at the National Antisocial Behaviour Clinic based at London's Maudsley Hospital draw a direct line between poor parenting and a range of social problems including educational under-achievement, criminality and drug misuse.

Newborn baby in nappy Right... what now?

But they also suggest that support works. A 10-year clinical trial into the Incredible Years parenting scheme has begun to show significantly improved outcomes for those youngsters whose parents had taken part.

Ministers are very anxious to avoid the accusation that the good parenting advice amounts to the nanny state. The prime minister has described it instead as "the sensible state".

"It's ludicrous that we should expect people to train for hours to drive a car or use a computer, but when it comes to looking after a baby we tell people to just get on with it. And to those who say that government should forget about parenting and families and focus on the big, gritty issues, I'd say these are the big, gritty issues."

Changing social norms is never quick and is never easy - ministers talk about trying to initiate a generational shift in attitudes. There are clear benefits in improving the nation's parenting skills. The question is whether the state has a role as super-nanny.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

We need Miss Marple

Is it so crazy to suggest that someone looks to see if their neighbour's stolen vase is offered for sale at the local car boot?

Read full article

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is more to do with giving a lucrative government contract to an old (public) school chum of David Cameron, than it is about anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    State sponsored lessons in walking, breathing, Prime Ministering and arroganting to follow?
    No need for lessons in tenuous excusing

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    What a good idea and credit to Cameron for realising that sometimes the state does have a role to play in social policy, nanny state idea it may be, but that does not make it a bad one.
    The proposed way of trying to pump prime a market is also quite positive use of taxpayer resources. Let's see how this works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I feel there is something of a knee jerk reaction here. Yes much of the problem lies at the door of parents, but it is simplistic to think parenting is the only dynamic. Other influences on the young must include the media, peer group/social pressure, cultural differences and even biological and physical factors that lead to what is generally regarded as unacceptable behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    "It's ludicrous that we should expect people to train for hours to drive a car or use a computer, but when it comes to ..." running a country and forming a government all they have to do is convince enough people that they can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Of course the state has a role - the alternative has so far failed.
    In general educated people worry about how to raise their children; the less educated don't because they think they can change things.
    For the sake of all chirldren and our society we must promote good parenting skills. Access to information is a big step towards that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    We tried the carrot instead of the stick on the children and that didn't work, so we are going to try the same method on the parents? What kind of messed up world am i living in!!!?!?!??!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Isn't one of the approved 'providers' run by a pal of Dave?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    So I guess the idea of getting tough is out of the question then!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The obvious drawback is that common to all "nudge" theory: are not those who raise antisocial children themselves pretty unlikely to be influenced by social norms?

    I'd like to see more detail about the clinical trial mentioned, but intuitively it seems that this approach will improve the parenting of a lot of people a little bit, but of the few who really need it, not at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Parenting Vouchers are rather like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted !

    Breeding licences would be a much better idea.


Page 3 of 3



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.