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`Families told us: we're struggling and need support'

Perth and Kinross invests pound;1.5m to boost parenting skills

Perth and Kinross invests pound;1.5m to boost parenting skills

A Scottish council is planning to provide parenting classes for 250 families a year, after a survey revealed that almost a quarter of parents with children under 5 had concerns about whether they would be ready to start school.

The 2013 poll of 800 families in Perth and Kinross with children aged 0-8 found that 23 per cent of families with children aged up to 4 years were worried about their child's development. The concerns raised were primarily over communication, motor and social skills, and self-help skills such as the child's ability to feed and dress themselves.

The survey, Evidence2Success, revealed that just 22 per cent of families with children aged 3-8 had rules and routines around bedtime, food and television. More than half of parents (53 per cent) said they were inconsistent in implementing rules.

Evidence2Success was controversial (see panel, below), but the council is now acting on the survey's findings by investing pound;1.5 million over three years to implement the Incredible Years parenting programme.

Rules and routines

Speaking at a recent conference, director of education and children's services John Fyffe said: "The survey revealed a whole range of issues, particularly around behaviour and a lack of rules and routines. Parents were saying, `We don't know what to do. We're struggling and need support.' "

By 2017, the Scottish government wants 90 per cent of children to reach all expected developmental outcomes by the time they start primary school. But figures published last year showed there were concerns about the development of 28 per cent of Scottish children who were given a 27 to 30-month review by health professionals. Most worries related to communication, but the behaviour of about 6 per cent of children screened was seen as a cause for concern.

The Incredible Years programme would cost approximately pound;1,200 per family, Mr Fyffe said, but the council expected to save money in the long run through reductions in disruptive behaviour and mental health problems among parents.

The programme was rolled out last year, aimed at families of three-year-olds with behaviour problems. Initially 30 families took part; next year the council is hoping to reach its target of putting 250 families through the programme annually.

Incredible Years is one of two initiatives endorsed by NHS Education for Scotland's Psychology of Parenting Project (PoPP). The project aims to improve the availability of high-quality, evidence-based programmes for parents of children with behaviour problems. Perth and Kinross is one of several councils PoPP is working with to ensure proven programmes such as Incredible Years are properly implemented and delivered "with fidelity in real-world settings".

PoPP research shows that about two-thirds of children in the high-risk range for behaviour are no longer in this category by the end of the Incredible Years programme. For 45 per cent of those children, their behaviour moves into the normal range.

The impact is transformational, according to Mr Fyffe. "To put that in context, we have 1,500 pupils in each year group," he said. "If we can make a difference to 10 per cent of that cohort when they arrive in school then that's going to reduce inequalities and give kids the best start in life."

Controversial questions

Perth and Kinross Council's Evidence2Success child wellbeing survey involved phone interviews with parents of children up to age 8 and questionnaires in school for children aged 9 and above.

The council had intended to learn more about families' needs, but found itself under fire as parents objected to their children being asked questions related to substance misuse and violence.

The government later ruled that questions about smoking, alcohol, drug use, gang involvement and anti-social behaviour would only be put to secondary pupils.

Intensive training

Key aspects of the Incredible Years parenting programme:

It's part of a suite of parent, child and teacher programmes covering the 0-12 age span.

It involves two-hour sessions for up to 12 parents every week for 14-18 weeks.

Topics include play, praise, rules and routines, limit-setting and consequences.

Two group leaders encourage discussion, using video clips to identify the key principles of strong relationships and effective parenting.

The approach emphasises collaborative learning and social support, and incorporates role play, rehearsing behaviour and home-based activities between group meetings.

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