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Children and Parents

6.20 p.m.

Lord Northbourne rose to call attention to the role of parents in providing for the needs of the nation's children in the 21st century and to the case for making available more encouragement and support for parents; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to welcome our two maiden speakers, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton. The debate will be distinguished by the presence of a former Archbishop and an Archbishop. We welcome the new Archbishop as he makes his maiden speech and we welcome back the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, who, as noble Lords will recall, has himself led an extremely distinguished debate in this House.

Fifty years ago, the role of parents in our society was clearly understood. Since then, enormous changes have taken place and, in effect, the rulebook has been torn up. Many of today's parents have never experienced a functional family or even a family where anyone has work. Fewer and fewer people are choosing to become parents. Noble Lords will, I think, agree that our children still have a right to the love, security, care and education they need if they are to develop to their full potential. We are not meeting those requirements.

A significant minority of our young people are growing up anti-social, excluded and without hope. Some 9 per cent of children leave school functionally illiterate. We are sending these young people out into the world disabled. The cost to the taxpayer is huge, both directly and in later lost productivity; the human cost is probably even greater.

Today it is fashionable to blame the schools. However, I am going to be bold enough to suggest that it is the quality of early parenting which lies at the root of the problem. Furthermore, as they held their first baby in their arms, 99 per cent of those parents who fail wanted desperately to succeed. They have been defeated by the mountain of multiple disadvantage against which they have to struggle. It is those parents and that disadvantage which are the concerns of our debate today.

In her Reith Lecture last year my noble friend Lady O'Neill pointed out:

Who, then, has the duty to deliver the rights of the nation's children today? The Children Act 1989 established the concept of a partnership between parents and the state. I shall return to that concept of partnership later.

First, however, I want to show that, in spite of the welfare state, parents still play a pivotal role in raising the nation's children. By "parent" in this context, I refer to any adult who has made a long-term

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commitment to love and care for a child. Obviously, birth parents are by far the most likely people to volunteer for the job.

A recent report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health states:

    "The way parents look after their babies and toddlers makes an important difference to their mental health and social and emotional development. The impact of parenting and its potential for improving mental, social and emotional health is discernible both in the child and later in adulthood. Parents are crucially important because the foundations of learning and of successful relationships are laid in the first five years. That is also the time when parents are at the very centre of the life of the child".

My noble friend Lady Greenfield will speak later about the development of the child's brain. As she is a world expert on the subject, I shall say no more.

Professor Nicholas Elmer wrote in a recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report:

    "The most important influence on a person's level of self-esteem is their parents. After parents have had their say, little else in life will be able to modify the 'opinion of self' formed by parents".

Much other recent research shows the strong links between the quality of parenting and outcomes for children, both in school and in later life. I believe therefore that the evidence is compelling. In spite of the welfare state, parents still play a key role, especially during the first five years of a child's life.

Most parents today, most of the time and with the help of the welfare state, are giving their children the care and education they need for a good start in life. Of those who are not succeeding, most desperately want to do so. Why does success elude them? Research suggests that often more than one factor is involved. A cluster of linked factors causes the problem. These may include ill health, mental illness, depression, learning disabilities, poor housing, lone parenting, loneliness, poverty, violence, alcohol or drugs and ignorance. Today many parents do not know what their child needs, still less how to deliver it. Many have never experienced a happy, supportive family, or even a kind word, or boundaries to acceptable behaviour. They are struggling against a mountain of severe and multiple disadvantage. They need help. How can we help them?

The Government have given these problems very serious thought. Much has been done and they are to be congratulated on that. This morning my noble friend Lady Howe and I visited a Home-Start programme based in Southwark. What is being done in that project is impressive. Parents are empowered by being brought together in a holistic way with the various services they need so that, through the parents, objectives for the children can be achieved. How different, alas, from most local authorities. Often the various departments do not even speak to one another. Furthermore, they try to substitute for parents rather than work through parents. I shall not say more in flattery about the Government's achievements because the Minister has 20 minutes in which to speak, while I have only 15. I shall not sing his song for him.

Much more still needs to be done. I realise that there is only so much that governments can do. Parents do not want to be told how to bring up their children and

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people do not want a nanny state. That is why I want to spend my remaining few minutes looking at four areas where I believe it is politically feasible for both government and the rest of society to do more to help parents.

First, however, we must define more clearly the role of parents. In her book, Who's Fit to be a Parent?, M J Campion wrote:

    "I would argue that the degree of mismatch between expectations of child, parent and state are at the heart of most parenting problems today. Parents are being asked to do a job without any job description".

Parents cannot be expected to get it right if society is not clear about what it expects of them.

A recent report from the National Family and Parenting Institute considers the case for a "parents code" or for guidelines for parents. I am inclined to think that a road map for parents might be a better proposal. A map can show a variety of routes; it can also indicate those which are likely to be the easiest and those which are likely to end in trouble. Ultimately, however, it leaves the choice to the parent.

Parents' responsibilities should be set in the context of the responsibilities of others. We need to shift from emphasising "feckless parents" to a consideration of the responsibility of society as a whole for the future care of our young people. In designing a code or road map for parents, society and parents themselves, as well as government, should be seen to set the agenda. There is a need for open consultation and debate. That debate would probably need to be inaugurated by government, but then they would have to be prepared to listen.

My second points relates to more education and preparation for parenthood. There is no one best way to be a parent. But that does not mean that there is nothing to learn.

A recent report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health stated that,

    "parenting is a difficult task. The way we were cared for by our own parents influences how we look after our children".

It goes on:

    "There is now a growing body of research which shows that our familiar assumptions about bringing up children are not always correct. Some parenting practices (which are passed on from generation to generation) are harmful, and play an important part in the development of emotional and behavioural problems, conduct disorder, delinquency, violence and mental health problems in adult life".

Yet a recent survey by Mothercare indicated that 70 per cent of mothers today rely either on instinct or on what they learnt from their mothers to guide their parenting.

Parents and prospective parents need reliable, research-based information and opportunities to learn about what has worked for others so that they can make informed choices. Education for parenthood in schools has been shown to work, and is popular. The emphasis at that age is on relationships, on accurate information about what a young child needs, and on discussion about the teenager's own aspirations. This subject should be compulsory in all schools—which

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today it is not; the syllabus should be part of government policy—which it is not; and it should be taught by well-trained staff—which it is not.

Parenting education for young parents, including fathers, during the mother's pregnancy and after has also been shown to work well. Even parenting orders have worked—which all the professionals predicted would not be the case. The Parenting Education & Support Forum tells me that many parents have asked: "Why didn't I get help before? Why did I have to wait till my boy had committed a crime?".

My third point is that we need a more holistic approach to help parents. The point was made clearly in a wonderful debate introduced by my noble friend Lady Howe a few weeks ago.

Even when support is available, too many parents and children are falling through the net because services are over-stretched and, more importantly, are not working together. It is interesting to note the comparison with the Sure Start programme, where the empowerment of parents and a holistic approach to the contribution of the various services are central to the project. How I wish that that could be extended to all areas in all parts of the country, and to all children and all parents.

Health visitors, having gained the confidence of parents, have an important role to play in introducing them to the services that they need. Again, that is working with the Sure Start programme.

Finally, I believe that we should value and respect parents more. This is a crucial message. Parents are a fantastic resource for the nation. Let us stop taking them for granted. If parents feel valued, they will value themselves more; they will be more likely to prepare themselves for the job, and do it well and with enthusiasm. There is an enthusiasm these days for positive parenting, and we are told by the experts—rightly, in my view—that children respond better to praise than to blame. Why do we not try that with parents too? We should value particularly fathers and mothers who make a long-term commitment to do the job of parenting, because long-term commitment is important to children.

We need a more family-friendly society. I dream of a society in which, when you walk into a restaurant with children, people look up and smile, as they do in Spain and Italy.

We must listen to parents. Today, parents in our society do not have a voice. Perhaps we could consider developing an organisation for parents which would give them a voice—a kind of trade union for parents.

The time has come to recognise that parents save the state a vast amount of money and do a job which no one else can do as well as good parents can. They are doing the most important job in the world. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.35 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, we are very lucky to have the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, among us to remind us of the importance of children,

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and of their parents, in the scheme of things. I thank the noble Lord for introducing this debate, and for doing so with his customary blend of knowledge and humanity. The subject has attracted a distinguished group of Peers, with a wide range of experience. We can all look forward to the debate ahead of us. It will be particularly pleasant to hear from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton, in his new role as a life Peer, and from his successor, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom we welcome to the Bishops' Benches.

We do not need to be experts to know that parents are the most important factor in the lives of children. That is true whatever the make-up of the family—traditional or otherwise.

It is within the family that children first learn a sense of values—sharing and fairness; discipline; the boundaries of acceptable behaviour; how to enjoy themselves; what is safe and what is risky. It is where they first learn to relate to others—it is to be hoped with rational self-confidence, but, sadly, sometimes with fear, suspicion or aggression.

My conviction is that most people, whatever their financial or family circumstances, try their best to give their children a good start in life. But some parents—often, but not exclusively, the poorest—have real problems with coping with their own lives, or with their children, their partners, their finances, their own mental health, or all of these. Or they may not have had the experience of "good" parenting from their own parents. Even so, one should not assume that these will be "bad" parents. People can show amazing resilience in the face of daunting problems. But they may need support or financial help or advice, or the opportunity to meet other parents in similar situations and to learn from each other.

There is a considerable amount of discussion as to what help should be offered, in what form and by whom. But there is a wide acceptance that it should be available as early as possible. I suggest that a great deal could be done at maternity clinics, during a post-confinement stay in hospital and via mother and baby clinics to increase a young mother's confidence in her own ability to look after her child. Written material about local support and help services could also be made available in these places.

I am sad to hear of the decline in the provision of mother and baby clinics since my time as a parent. A marvellous opportunity to learn which young mums were not coping and to offer discreet suggestions as to "what works" with small babies may have been lost.

I think it is hard to exaggerate the loneliness of the young mother at home. I certainly experienced loneliness, but I suspect that things may be worse now. Young parents may not have their own parents near at hand; or granny may herself be working and not able to provide a second home and partial refuge for the next generation. She may not even want to do so, having only recently stopped looking after her own children.

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So it seems to me that a great deal of care should be taken by the authorities in tailoring offers of help and the way in which they are presented to parents, in such a way that they emphasise the things that parents themselves seem to value: a respect for their own opinions and for their wish to be good parents, the ability to meet other parents and to learn from them, and a concentration on practical help with dealing with young children.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that, in rolling out programmes designed to help parents and particularly poor parents, the Government will pay close attention to the work of researchers which could help in encouraging parents to seek and receive support. Not all adults in our communities are confident in approaching the authorities and asking them for help. Indeed, many people would rather do anything than approach, say, social services.

Some may say that all would be well in the family if only mums stayed at home. Personally, I am glad that I was able to do so, although I did not always feel like that at the time. Nor did long periods at home, combined with residence abroad as a diplomatic wife, have a beneficial effect on my earnings or pension. But I doubt that being a full-time mum is an option for more than a very few people today. Indeed, I doubt that it ever was. Poor women have always worked, first in the fields, then in the factories, in other people's houses, as laundrywomen, cleaners, cooks and, later, as clerks, shop assistants and typists. It is the desertion of her children by the married middle-class mum which shocks some observers. But we cannot go back to the 1950s, much less the 1930s. We have to find ways of integrating the world of work and the world of child care as much as possible—more, even than the Government's new policies on flexible working, to be activated in a few weeks' time, will achieve.

Those policies are a good base from which to go forward, and I look forward to seeing how they will operate in practice. I am particularly keen to see how they will affect the role of fathers as carers. The pressure on women who want to do well at work is a risk to successful parenting, but so is the terrible modern culture of exaggeratedly long working days for men who want to play their part as parents. In this context, I would like to know whether the Minister is satisfied that working parents, particularly poorer workings parents, have access to the reliable nursery care in school holidays as well as in term time which can help them maintain their earnings.

It is a cliche to say that a society's children are its future, but it is true. Recently there has been a lot of bad news about young people—their increased smoking, drug-taking and drinking, and the violence they cause in the streets. The Government appeared at first to respond to this in punitive mode. There are too many women and too many young people in prison today adding a financial cost to the social costs caused by bad behaviour. This is not the time to discuss penal policy. In any case, the Government seem to have

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changed tack, with a greater emphasis on punishment in the community and developments such as Community Punishment Plus.

We should never forget that lack of care for parents and families can, in the worst cases, result in offending behaviour. Indeed, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, the breakdown of family life is the single greatest predictor of offending behaviour. It is also associated with low educational achievement and the risk that the cycle of poor parenting begins again. How much better to offer useful help to parents when they really need it—when they first become parents.

6.43 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke: My Lords, what an important and absorbing subject the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has chosen to introduce today. I offer him my sincere thanks and warm congratulations.

As a secondary school teacher for almost 40 years and, over the past 10 years, as chairman of governors of a large inner-city technology college, I have never doubted the importance of the early years in the moulding and development of a child's character and abilities. This is a truth known to the Spartans in ancient times and to the Jesuits later.

The noble Lord eloquently described many of the problems facing parents who are struggling inadequately to look after their young children in the tough world of today. I am glad to tell him that help is at hand. This evening, I would like to tell your Lordships about Home-Start, an organisation which exists entirely to provide encouragement and support for parents who have at least one child under the age of five.

Home-Start is now 30 years old, and is acknowledged to be the leading family support organisation in the country. It began as a simple scheme in Leicester, the brainchild of Margaret Harrison, and is now a national organisation, with more than 320 schemes all over England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That Home-Start is now a major source of family support nationally is largely due to the energies of its chief executive, Brian Waller, the former director of social services in Leicestershire.

Each Home-Start scheme is locally run and managed by co-ordinators who recruit, prepare, train, supervise and support local volunteers, who are parents themselves. These volunteers offer simple, practical help and, most importantly, friendship and support. They live in the same neighbourhood as the families they visit and they are, as it were, matched to the vulnerable families who are in difficulties.

The volunteer parent visits the family in their own home, becoming a trusted friend and very often helping a family to stick together through periods of crisis or depression—particularly post-natal depression. Imagine the comfort for a lonely young mother just to have a companionable neighbour popping in, perhaps saying, "You go and have a rest, I'll wash up and then take the children for a walk",

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introducing her to a local welfare service or playgroup, suggesting—always in a non-threatening way—a few tips on diet or, indeed, just listening, over a cup of tea.

Our Governments, whatever their colour, have, I am glad to say, given great support to Home-Start over many years, demonstrating their commitment to families and young children. I think particularly at this time of the Ministry of Defence, which provides funding for the many Home-Start schemes that operate specifically for families in the Armed Forces.

Four years ago, Margaret Harrison had another brainwave. She set up Home-Start International to respond to the ever-increasing number of requests from other countries for help in setting up similar schemes. She asked me to chair the trustees, having already done me the kindness of recruiting the director, Tanya Barron, who has a wealth of experience internationally, most recently advising UNICEF's child care forum.

It has been most encouraging to see the UK model of family support so welcome all over the world. One of the attractions of Home-Start is the very low cost of the operation, which is therefore sustainable even in low-income countries. Moreover, its tried and tested information and training materials are available for Home-Starts throughout the world; they are currently translated into Hungarian, Greek, Russian and French.

We are helping 18 countries to set up their own family support organisations. One of the most important lessons that we have learnt is that the needs for family support are very similar throughout the world and across the different parts of society in each country. Home-Start works as well in Australia as it does in Russia, or indeed South Africa or the Netherlands.

Another important lesson learnt is how crucial it is to develop strong working partnerships between professionals and the voluntary sector. During my recent visit to Home-Starts in Australia, I was particularly struck by the fact that nurses looking after mothers suffering from post-natal depression were grateful to be able to refer them to Home-Start volunteers.

The European Commission is currently funding a research project led by Home-Start International to evaluate the effectiveness of parent support programmes in Europe. The first research publication from the project will be available next Monday.

Finally, to return to this country, Home-Start does a wonderful job, but it is still not available to every family that needs it. Imagine what it could do if it were available in every town and city. The Green Paper on children at risk, to be published in May, will give the Government the chance to make Home-Start a truly universal service throughout the UK. What a wonderful opportunity.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I shall be extremely brief. As a fellow trustee of Home-Start

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International, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, has referred, I endorse everything she has said about the valuable role that Home-Start has played in its 30 years of existence in providing exactly the type of family support to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has drawn attention in this timely debate.

I also endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, said about the work that Home-Start International is doing to spread the practices and principles of Home-Start to the growing number of countries that are starting up similar schemes around the world.

I also take this opportunity to thank my former colleagues in the Diplomatic Service for the help, support and encouragement that several heads of mission have given to their local Home-Start schemes. I also thank the Department for International Development for the financial help that it has been able to give, for instance, to Home-Start in South Africa. I hope that the experience that officials have now been able to acquire from their contacts with Home-Start will have convinced any doubters of the vital contribution that such organisations can make towards the aims and objectives that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, set out.

6.52 p.m.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving us the opportunity of so timely a debate—a debate that recognises, as we needs must recognise at present, a major cultural shift. The time was when the family appeared as a safe and stable piece of territory, surrounded by the ups and downs of public life. Now it is often the family itself that appears fragile and in need of support from public attention and public investment.

The word "parenting", which has been thrown around already in this afternoon's discussion, is in some ways admittedly a barbarism. As somebody recently said, it would be nice to know what the corresponding duties of "childing" involved. But we cannot do without that. However much it may suggest an unhappy replacement of relation by contract, there are questions here about skills and the management, nurture and development of those skills, which have become a matter of increasing urgency for all those reasons which your Lordships have already heard amply set out.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, rightly referred to the weight of multiple disadvantage that presses upon many families these days. I agree wholeheartedly with the identification of that problem and see its effects not least in the challenges that face many parents in the management of stress, anger and conflict. Much of the most important work that can be done in the field of parenting skills is in addressing these issues.

At the same time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has reminded us, we face a culture of work that is in many ways inimical to the values we wish to

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develop. It is, I believe, a fact that fathers of young children work, statistically, the longest hours among our working population. Our attention has already been drawn to this. It is a reminder to us that, while it is perfectly right to think of work as one of the more reliable routes out of poverty, that can only be true in a constructive way and in the long run if our culture of work becomes more humane and less pressurised. I hope that that, too, will be part of our considerations in this area. We are not simply talking about the multiple disadvantage that weighs so heavily on economically less advantaged members of society; we are also looking at the burdens borne by those who are counted prosperous in the world's eyes.

It is because of the increasing awareness of these pressures and conflicts that the level and quality of voluntary contribution to this situation has developed so dramatically in recent years. The noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, and the noble Lord, Lord Wright, have drawn our attention to one of the most distinguished essays in voluntary assistance here. I am particularly glad to hear the work of Margaret Harrison referred to, as not only her practical work, but also her research, have proved a benchmark for the understanding of these issues in recent years. It is an area where the life of faith communities and the Christian Churches has become much involved in recent years.

The Mothers' Union has been running a parenting skills programme that, I believe, is currently educating 220 people in parenting skills, of whom nearly a quarter now have professional accreditation. Christian groups have been prominent in many other fields here. There are several names that might be called to mind: FLAME, the Family Life and Marriage Education network; Care for the Family; and the delightfully and aptly named Fathers Direct. I do not believe that it is quite true yet that you can have a mail order arrangement to provide a male parent, but this is a very important contribution to precisely those areas that previous speakers in your Lordships' House have mentioned in this afternoon's debate.

Unprecedented levels of skill and attention have been devoted to this in the voluntary sector. This is where a note of, if not caution, at least concern might need to be sounded. It is always welcome when statutory encouragement and assistance are given to voluntary work in areas such as this. But, as many of your Lordships will realise better than I, the promise of statutory encouragement and assistance can sometimes be something of a Trojan horse. The armed warriors inside brandish their weapons of accreditation and accountability in ways that may be perfectly defensible and yet which create their own problems in discouraging volunteers. Some of the effects of this are already visible in some of those voluntary organisations that I have mentioned.

We need some overview of the situation, able to balance the appropriate level of statutory involvement with a proper flexibility about the volunteer and his or her role. It is in relation to that question of an overview that I make the first of two concluding points that I wish to leave with your Lordships. This has to do with

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a question that has been ventilated more than once in recent decades. Legislation affecting families and children crosses a wide number of departmental boundaries in government. From time to time, the cry has been raised that it is perhaps time to see some co-ordinating structure that will have that overview of the needs of families and children, which is able to interpret departments to one another and interpret the common mind of government departments to the public at large and turn it into effective action. I hope that that challenge to a co-ordinating role within government will not go unheard.

If I may refer to it in your Lordships' House, the experience in Wales of the development of the role of the Children's Commissioner has again reminded us how very important it can be to have some figure or figures who have that broader role and that broader vision and remit in their work.

Many more things could be said on this subject. I look forward to hearing them from other speakers in the debate, not least the noble Lord, Lord Carey, my distinguished predecessor. But one concluding reflection, which is perhaps particularly timely, is in relation to the way in which faith communities are capable of collaboration in the delivery of parenting skills. Experience in urban south Wales suggested that collaboration between the Churches and the local Muslim communities could break down many barriers of understanding. I suggest to your Lordships that that area is well worthy of further development at a time when relations between faith communities so need reinforcement, cementing and solidifying.

It is a sad fact, and this debate will remind us of it, as many others will, that it is not always shared aspirations that give us the deepest sense of our common humanity—shared problems do that too. The cross-boundary problems affecting faith communities, such as the difficulties of parenting and the management of adolescents, have sometimes proved a major spur to better and fuller co-operation between those faith communities that have a particular investment in the health and nurture of family life.

7 p.m.

Lord Sheppard of Liverpool: My Lords, it is a special delight and privilege to be able to congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on his maiden speech. I have for a long time given the greatest value to his teaching and writing and I am delighted that your Lordships have heard him today. He is never pre-packaged but always thought-provoking, bringing fresh thoughts and entering fully into the debate. Your Lordships' House will look forward to many other contributions.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on introducing the debate. He set the right tone in speaking of encouragement and support. The blame culture has dominated many approaches to parenting for much too long. A community worker told me of a conversation that he had with a local head teacher about a mother whom they both knew. The head

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teacher said, "She just doesn't care", but the community worker told me that, as it happened, that mother had been in his office that morning saying, "I can't cope". Sometimes people who feel that they cannot cope try to retain their dignity by covering it up with a brassy and aggressive exterior.

Lately I was reminded how fragile parents can feel, when we were given sole charge of our two grandsons, aged four and two, for the whole morning. Would we be able to cope? It reminded me of anxious days when our daughter was growing up.

Parents who have had poor experiences in their own childhood may need intensive and sensitive support. The report to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, rightly warns against assuming that professionals will always know best without listening seriously to parents. Parents need to feel respected and valued.

I had the privilege of being national chairperson of the Family Service Units for 10 years. Each year, I was given a president's visit to one or other unit in the most disadvantaged areas of different cities. A vivid and simple memory is of a unit where there was a playroom where members of staff were down on the floor playing alongside children. Some parents there said that their own parents had never played with them and that they had not known how to begin.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, spoke of his visit with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, to a Sure Start project in Southwark. That programme is under the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. The most reverend Primate spoke of the need for investment; the Government are making a huge investment into that programme. They are halfway in and, in two years, 1.5 billion will have been put into Sure Start. That shows the priority that is being given to young children and their parents.

Sure Start reckons to support families with core local programmes, especially in the most disadvantaged areas. Its focus is especially from pregnancy to four years old, right through until children are 14. It sets out to co-ordinate services that can too easily act in different parts of the forest. One Sure Start project in Liverpool, still in its first year, includes in its team a midwife, a health visitor, a nursery teacher with particular skills in family learning, an adviser in bilingual work, an educational psychologist and someone from adult learning. It is one of four in Liverpool that are up and running, and there should be 10 in the city in two years. I was told that there will be 100 nationally.

Sure Start aims to support parents as parents and in their aspirations to employment. That means enabling access to quality and affordable childcare, allowing mothers to go out to work. Getting into employment is the best way out of poverty for many, and brings more rewards than simply financial ones. Self-confidence begins to flow, which makes a huge difference to parenting. A friend told me that when a mother gets a job and goes to work every morning, children get to school on time.

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What about fathers? On one large outer estate in Merseyside, I was told that fathers are redundant. To be resigned to that takes away a vital part of a child's upbringing. I hope that Sure Start will build the kind of bridges that bring fathers into the picture too. Men will often help if they are asked to do a job that their skills can offer to a centre, such as repairs or redecorating. On such first bridges of friendly contact, they may dare to acknowledge that they need support in parenting.

In many of the neediest areas, parents have very low horizons. It is all too easy for some parents in the neediest estates to say, "It never did me any harm growing up on this estate, with its culture", and to go on to have low expectations for their children. Building bridges for mothers and fathers brings contact, conversations and ideas that may lift those horizons.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Ashton and the Government on the priority being given to Sure Start. I hope that its professionals will work at building the bridges with parents to which I have referred. They can be places where self-confidence begins to grow and the proper dignity of parents is guarded.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I follow two extremely impressive episcopal speeches, and another one is to come. It is fascinating how the Bishops are spreading around the House. If the present incumbent of the see of Canterbury scores a home run, we shall find the diamond full and one on our benches. That would be a welcome event.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is right in saying that almost all parents want to be good parents. One sees that in the most extreme circumstances. Everyone in the House must recognise what an enormous benefit it is to children and to society at large that parents should be good parents.

There are two principle problem—image and access. The image of parenting education is that it is frankly naff, especially for fathers. The idea of going along to a parenting class strikes horror into most fathers' hearts and does not much appeal to mothers either, in my experience. However, it is possible to tackle that problem.

One sees several excellent examples in the voluntary sector, such as Pippin—the Parents in Partnership-Parent Infant Network—which works in prisons. People from that organisation say that few fathers attend conventional parent-craft classes and that those who do frequently feel out of place. That is certainly accurate, but Pippin is finding ways around that. Another organisation successfully getting round the problem is the Parenting Education and Support Forum, which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned and which has pointed out that groups must be rooted in small communities and that leaders must be respected for their integrity. That was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, in her speech on Home-Start. I hope that she will add me to the mailing list for that organisation, as I have not had dealings with it to date.

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I see the same tendency in Safe Ground, the prisons charity with which I am involved, which has just launched its latest venture. "Family Man" is a teaching pack for family skills in the Prison Service. Prisoners are a good example of group of bad parents who have put themselves in an extremely difficult position. It is wonderful to see how proud they become of being involved in such a course, of wearing the t-shirt, telling their fellow prisoners what they are doing and getting involved with their families again. Once one turns the corner of image, one can do a very great deal.

Access is the other problem for most of us. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, you almost have to be a criminal to get in touch with the available support services. Four months ago, I had the pleasure of becoming a father again. In the process of my wife's pregnancy and subsequently, no one pointed out a parenting class to me. I have learnt a lot today about their availability. However, it is not something that has been on offer to me in any way. It is generally not something that men talk about. I cannot recall having a conversation at a pub or anywhere else about the skills of parenting. So far as one can judge the matter from daytime television—which is something that you get used to when your wife is pregnant—women do not talk much about it either.

So what can the Government do? First, they can avoid being prescriptive. There are lots of different ways of bringing up children well. I remember sitting at the house of my parents-in-law when their friends, who had two young children, came to visit. The children got hold of the butter and the jam and were spreading it all over the furniture and carpets while their parents were sitting back with smiles of approbation on their faces. Those two children grew up to be the most courteous and most thoughtful young people that I know of in that immediate family. The furniture did not fare so well, but the children, despite that type of bringing up, turned out extremely well. There are lots of different ways of doing it. When people grow up in different cultures and different religions and have learned from their parents in different ways, you cannot cram them into one mould.

It is important that the Government should encourage lots of different voluntary sector organisations. There are lots of different ways of doing that, but the Government should get behind and encourage them. They should help publicise what is available. They should help spread good practice. As the most reverend Primate said, let us get some real evidence-based research on what works and how it works and spread that round the system. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, we should revisit the PHSE curriculum. A great deal can be done to involve children in the questions of parenthood. You just need to employ a little drama-based technique. Use a little role play. Get children involved and talking about it. After all, what we want to create for the future is children who will talk about these subjects, who will converse.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, we want to deal to some extent with current work practices. It is terribly difficult for a father. I hardly saw anything

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of my first two children. I was working for an organisation that believed in starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m., after which one became involved in the office politics and socialisation. I saw my children at weekends and when they were asleep. Now I have the great privilege of being able to look after my child half time. What I am noticing now is that there is remarkably little support. There is not a crèche in this place, for example. I shall have to consult the Clerks on whether I am allowed to carry my child through the Division Lobby if one happens to occur when I am sitting downstairs in the family room.

The Government can do a great deal in setting an example. I have often come across the excellent work that they do in making room in the structures of work for those with disabilities or long-term illnesses. But there is no sign of that when it comes to families. By setting an example in their myriad of employees, the Government could do a great deal to set the tone for the rest of society.

Something can be done in television. I do not know how many noble Lords saw the series by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, in which he touched on some of the problems of raising children and on how parents can be shown to get round the problems that they allow to develop between themselves and their children. Just a little direction and counselling can make an enormous difference. So many of us know only how we were brought up and do not find our way to other things. "The Archers" has an agricultural story editor, but no clear evidence of anyone who understands family problems. Yet that programme has been taken as the worldwide pattern of how to educate people. A great deal can be done by encouraging that type of story line. It helps when the media deal with such matters in a knowledgeable way.

Finally, there are always little things that can be done. Prison can be made a much better place for families. We can stop imprisoning so many women with children; there is almost always a better way of dealing with them. We should look particularly at the number of foreign women whom we send to long prison sentences for drug offences, separating them from their families. Why not—it would be much cheaper—send them home to prison in their home countries? They can keep in at least some contact there.

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