Health chief calls for state-run parenting classes

Parents should receive lessons from the government on how to raise their children, Britain’s top public health expert has said.

Professor John Ashton, the outgoing president of the Faculty of Public Health, said today’s young people are being neglected by “sweatshop” schools and bad parenting.

He said the state must step in to help prevent the next generation being crippled by conditions such as anxiety, anorexia and obesity.

One in 10 children has a mental health problem, and a poor relationship with parents is among the main causes, Prof Ashton told The Times.

He said: “We’ve done remarkably well in terms of producing live, healthy babies over the last 60, 70 years, but, by the time children are leaving school, between 10% and 15% of them are in trouble emotionally or mentally, and suffer from things like obesity, eating disorders, anxiety and stress.”

“So having produced healthy babies we then set about neglecting them. I can’t imagine a sensible farmer doing this with livestock.”



Professor Ashton said that the problems transcend class. “Although parents who come from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves are more likely to have difficulties bringing up their own kids, that’s not universal,” he said. “There’s some terrible parenting among wealthy people, who neglect their children and spoil them in other ways.”

David Cameron said this year that he wanted to “make it normal — even aspirational — to attend parenting classes”, which would give advice on discipline, communicating and playing with children. Officials promise more details this summer.

Professor Ashton said: “If you see [parenting advice] as an extension of the antenatal support that women get through midwives and health visitors, it really raises the public health role of midwives, which really needs to be developed much more in this country.”

Nick Harrop, campaigns manager at the charity YoungMinds, said: “Everyone needs support when they become a parent. Whether the information comes from a friend, a family member, a nurse or a local children’s centre, knowing how to help your child emotionally is crucial for their mental wellbeing.”

He added: “It’s important that support programmes for parents are well designed, so that people feel actively involved . . . not like they’re taking part in a tick-box exercise.”

Royal College of Midwives spokesperson Sarah Fox said that she welcomes the idea of being a “bridge” between NHS services and social support for new parents.

“There’s a lot of evidence that where individual families and midwives know each other and have continuity that messages are well received.”

“But it comes back to midwives having enough time,” she said, adding that some public health messages aren’t being communicated to parents due to a shortage of midwives in the UK.