A new government scheme will offer parenting advice, but the former director of Sure Start tells Channel 4 News it will not benefit the parents who need support as other children's services are cut.
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Nine months after the summer riots, which were blamed in part on poor parenting, the government has launched a multi-million pound service to support the parents of young children.
From today, a new £3.4m email and text service will send advice to all parents expecting a baby or in the first month of parenthood. They might contain videos of midwives demonstrating bathing and other techniques, or advice from other parents.
Vouchers for £100-worth of parenting classes will be on offer from high street chemists to parents of under-5s in three pilot areas, allowing parents to seek help on anything from managing tiredness to nurturing relationships with their other half. They will be rolled out across England and Wales if successful.
The news was welcomed by the NSPCC, who last week released figures that showed two in five new mums are struggling to cope with the demands of looking after their newborn baby.
But while parenting classes are proven to work, on their own they will not benefit parents for whom support has been taken away elsewhere, said the first director of the Sure Start initiative.
Funding for Sure Start, which provides childcare, health services and family support to young families is no longer ringfenced, and as well as cuts to existing services, an estimated 3,500 Sure Start centres have closed altogether.
£100 vouchers from Boots aren't really going to avoid these issues for families who are feeling the pinch. Angela Mason, Camden Council
"What we need is a much more targeted approach that doesn't stigmatise but provides the kind of support and infrastructure that people need to make the classes," Naomi Eisenstadt told Channel 4 News. "To avoid the publicity of closing Sure Start centres, the government closed fewer of them but pared down their services."
Without support for childcare, which many parents can't afford to pay for, and other financial support, Ms Eisenstadt is not hopeful that the new parenting scheme will have an impact where it is needed.
"The 'worried well' - they'll like it. But the struggles of daily life are such that that kind of commitment is too much for some parents," she said.
Cuts to Camden
The new scheme, known as Can Parent, will be piloted in Middlesbrough, Camden in north London and High Peak, Derbyshire. However the introduction of the scheme follows huge cuts to council budgets, many of which will hit services aimed at helping parents and families.
Camden Council has been tasked with making £90m of cuts by 2014 and has already got rid of 441 full-time staff, with that number estimated to rise to nearly 1,000.
The government cut the budget for children's services by 22 per cent, however the council ring-fenced some services, reducing the cuts to 10 per cent. Even so early years services alone have been cut by £3.2m, including the closure of two children's centres and a reduction in the number of free, full time nursery places.
The great thing about this scheme is because everyone who goes to the NHS has the midwife, this service is available to everyone..it will reach those hard-to-reach mums who probably need it the most. David Cameron
Angela Mason, Camden Council's cabinet member for children, said Mr Cameron has "a bit of cheek" introducing Can Parent in the same area.
"£100 vouchers from Boots aren't really going to avoid these issues for families who are feeling the pinch," she told Channel 4 News. "We think this is a PR gimmick."
Camden's budget for a play service, which is effectively childcare, providing afterschool and holiday clubs for children, has been cut from £4.2m to £1.5m from this September. "Cuts in childcare are really concerning," said Ms Mason. "It's something that our parents in Camden are saying loud and clear - childcare in London is the most expensive in the world."
The parent's view
Sophie Prosser suffered from severe post-natal depression three years ago when her daughter was born. She did not feel supported by at the time, and welcomes the introduction of free parenting classes.
"Face to face is always better. I remember the midwife phoning me and throwing the phone across the room. I was really stressed, Florence was crying, everything was too much," she told Channel 4 News.
However Ms Prosser, who still suffers from depression, is concerned about the impact of a loss of services elsewhere. Florence is currently looked after 15 hours a week and she says she could not do without the help.
"We're going to be affected by changes to child tax credits and all the rest of it," she said. "It makes me feel under pressure to go and get a job, but I have severe depression. It would be really nice if I felt there was more support for people like me."
A universal service
Speaking from Coram Parents' Centre in the north London borough, Mr Cameron denied that cutting existing children's services undermined the Can Parent programme.
"We are putting up the money that goes into early intervention," he said. "The great thing about this scheme is because everyone who goes to the NHS has the midwife, this service is available to everyone .. it will reach those hard-to-reach mums who probably need it the most."
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