Discussion: David Cameron’s parenting plans a boost to family life or nanny state at its worst?
Free parenting classes are not a 'nanny state' policy, David Cameron insisted yesterday, as he unveiled a number of initiatives aimed at helping families.
The prime minister said it was ludicrous that people had to train before they were allowed to drive a car but could bring up a baby with no practice at all.
Vouchers for �100 worth of parenting classes are now on offer from high street chemist Boots and health professionals to parents of children aged up to five in three trial areas for the Can Parent initiative.
There will also be a new targeted NHS email and text service aimed at those expecting a baby or in the first month of parenthood.
It is designed to provide 'regular, relevant and tailored' advice such as videos of midwives demonstrating bathing and other techniques, plus advice from other parents.
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Initially the parenting classes will be piloted in Middlesbrough, Camden in north London and High Peak in Derbyshire – but they could be extended throughout England if successful.
Courts can already impose such classes on parents of unruly children but ministers hope the involvement of Boots will persuade families to see them as just as normal as ante-natal classes.
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Subsidised relationship support sessions will also be piloted from July for all expectant parents and those with children up to the age of two.
The project will be tested in York, Leeds, North Essex, the City of London and the London boroughs of Hackney, Islington and Westminster, with up to �1m available for the trial up to March 2014. The initiatives come nine months after last summer's riots, for which ministers blamed a breakdown of family discipline.
Mr Cameron said yesterday: 'Parents are nation-builders. It's through love and sheer hard work that we raise the next generation with the right values.
'That's why this government is doing everything possible to support parents. This is not the nanny state. It's 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.
'To those who say government should forget about parenting and families and focus on the big, gritty issues, I'd say these are the big, gritty issues. Families don't just shape us as individuals. They make a stronger society.'
Earlier Mr Cameron said he would have liked parenting lessons himself.
'I've got three, and the youngest is not yet two, and I still sometimes think I would love to have a bit more information about how to get them to do the things I need them to do sometimes,' he said.
'Somebody told me the other day you are meant to praise them seven times more often than you criticise them – try that in a day, it's quite tough.'
He described his wife Samantha as 'one of those mums who read all the books and was very committed to getting it right'.
Mr Cameron has previously indicated that he was 'hugely attracted' to the idea of tax breaks on childcare to help parents get back to work, arguing the economy would be stronger if mothers could be helped back into the workplace after having a child.
But ministers would have to find the money for such a move.
Here's what you've been saying on Twitter and the EDP24 website.
Emma Conroy: Ridiculous! OK, there are people out there that would like it, but no.
Marion: Good idea. It's a confusing business at the beginning, advice from all sides and little practical help. Lots to learn, help is useful.
Dave Middleton: Great idea... just what we need if we want the best for our children!
Marie Hicks: Is this what UK has come to? Your family, the way you were raised, used to teach you how to raise children, did it not?
Smithrob: Excellent! More vouchers that can be exchanged for cigarettes and alcohol in the local corner shop, as already happens with the vouchers people already receive for milk, etc.
Chris Hill: At last, our lame PM comes up with a sensible idea. Now we just need the authorities to stop telling young couples to bash out a few kids, so they can jump up the housing list ;)