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As babies become toddlers the role of parents in helping their children to develop and to learn changes. Good quality parenting programmes, based on what has been proven to work and delivered by skilled staff, can have a positive impact on children and their behaviour, and help mothers and fathers to develop a strong relationship with their children. Whereas antenatal groups are almost universally offered to first-time parents and most will take advantage of them this is not the case for parenting classes.
The Government wants more families to be able to benefit from parenting advice and support. Parents who attend good parenting classes (which include elements like relationship support) find they can be life-changing helping them to communicate better with their children and encourage good behaviour, and prevent problems developing later on. We will work with voluntary and private sector partners to look at ways of making these classes accessible to more mothers and fathers.
A strong relationship between parents makes a big difference to a child , so the Government is funding a range of expert providers, including Relate, to provide relationship support to people who need it. This includes marriage preparation courses, relationship support sessions for new mothers and fathers to help them manage the changes in their relationship as they become parents, counselling for couples who are experiencing difficulties and information and advice for both mothers and fathers on what to do next if a relationship breaks down.
If parents separate, we want to make it easier for both parents to continue to have a positive relationship with their child, when this is in the child’s best interests. Most mothers and fathers can agree on contact and maintenance arrangements for their children without going to court. For those families who do turn to the courts, we’re looking at how the system needs to change to make sure it benefits all families and children involved in family disputes.
The evidence about the impact of high-quality early education on children’s development is very strong, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. That is why the Government is extending the entitlement to 15 hours free early education each week to some two year-olds whose families are facing financial difficulties or other particular challenges. Most local authorities already provide some free early education to the most disadvantaged two year-olds, and we will extend this to around 20 per cent of two year-olds nationally from 2013. We want to make sure this free early education is available to the two year-olds who will benefit the most, and that it supports eligible children with more complex needs, so we will consult on this in the autumn.
As the number of health visitors grows, all families will be able to take advantage of the Healthy Child Programme regular health and development reviews from pregnancy onwards, including one at two to two-and-a-half years . At each review, starting shortly after birth, the health visitor will be able to work with parents to build their confidence, and identify any worries they may have or particular needs a child might have, including a disability or special educational need, and refer parents to the right person to offer support.
We will require all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders to give mothers and fathers a short written summary of their child’s progress at around the age of two, from September 2012. This will be based on a progress check focused on the prime areas of children’s development set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage in order to help identify whether the child or family needs any additional help. The information from this summary should inform the health and development review by health visitors where timings allow. In the longer term, we want to introduce a single integrated review for all children between two and two and a-half led by health visitors with a contribution from early years professionals where relevant.
The written summary at age two will also help with early identification of any special educational needs and disabilities. Early education settings can then offer additional support either on site or with the help of other professionals, such as speech and language therapists or children’s centres.
We are simplifying and strengthening the systems to identify whether a child has a disability or special educational needs and provide extra help as early as possible, so that they have the very best chance to succeed. Professionals working with children and families can help with the identification of possible problems, provide advice and put families in touch with more specialist help where necessary. We know that parents of disabled children and children with special educational needs can face particular stress, and local Parent Forums can help them find their way through the system locally.
For children with disabilities or more complex health needs, the Early Support Programme can offer the joined up support that families need. Many local authorities use Early Support to help families with disabled children access better co-ordinated services through a Key Worker. The programme puts families at the centre of any discussion about their child so that their views are listened to and respected, and their expertise is valued by professionals working with them.
Building on the principles of Early Support, the Government intends to bring services together into a single plan for each child with more complex needs from birth, working closely with families so that they feel confident that they are getting the support they need. Some local authorities will be developing and trialling these new approaches from September 2011.
The Government also funds short break services for disabled children, to give them access to a wide range of activities, from family holidays to weekly swimming trips, and importantly to give their parents and carers a break. Disabled children and their families should be offered these short breaks in addition to the free entitlement to 15 hours of early education. Local authorities need to ensure that sufficient early education includes places for disabled children.
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4Children, the national charity all about children and families.
NHS-accredited information, videos, and interactive tools
Announcements on 15 hours free early education for disadvantaged two year-olds
Information about early education, and special educational needs.
A new website for parents which includes information and advice for families in the foundation years
Relate is working towards creating a culture change for relationship support. It also engages the private sector on early intervention; evaluates practice; and makes innovative use of channels for people to access services and support.
Information for parents of twins, triplets or more during the first year
A UK-wide charity providing advice, information and support to the parents of all disabled children.
Home-Start provides a unique service for families - recruiting and training volunteers to support parents with young children at home.