By Tim Ross
Parents will be given a five-a-day checklist detailing how they should bring up their children under a plan which is winning ministerial support.
Television and radio advertisements and posters in nurseries and on buses would spell out how parents should play, read, talk, praise, and feed their children every day, under the proposed drive.
Companies that make toys, children’s books and baby food would be encouraged to brand their products with an official logo under the proposed scheme, which is modelled on the successful “five-a-day” fruit and vegetables dietary campaign.
The children’s minister, Sarah Teather, warmly welcomed the proposals, which came from the think-tank, CentreForum, and promised to consider the option of a “five-a-day” campaign for child development.
The initiative would aim to overhaul society’s attitudes towards parenting in a similar way to the change in how drink-driving has been seen over the past 50 years.
Research has found that the quality of parenting and educational influences in the early months and years of a child’s life have an overwhelming influence on their later progress at school and careers.
Typically, children from the poorest families are exposed to far fewer words, less likely to read books with their parents and eat poorer diets than their peers in wealthier homes. The result can be that children from deprived homes fail to master essential literacy skills and become mentally and physically unhealty.
CentreForum warned that high numbers of young offenders have poor reading and writing skills, causing significant social and economic costs.
Ms Teather, the children’s minister, welcomed CentreForum’s “contribution to the debate”.
“Raising greater awareness of the importance of high quality parenting skills and building strong family relationships for children in the foundation years and beyond is invaluable,” she said.
Graham Allen, the Labour MP and a child development adviser to the government, said the plan was “excellent”, adding: “A national parenting campaign is exactly what Britain needs. CentreForum proposes a powerful set of ideas by which this can be achieved.”
The report, Parenting Matters, calls for professional parenting advice to become as widespread as antenatal classes.
But poorer parents need to be “incentivised” to attend courses to help them complete the “five-a-day” essential actions. They could be rewarded for attending classes with higher child benefit payments or annual bonuses, the study suggested.
Baby shops and supermarkets could even offer “loyalty points” under the scheme.
The report acknowledges recommendations are “potentially controversial” and that “interfering” in how parents bring up their children leaves the proposals open to accusations of a “nanny state” mentality.