The government has pledged £7m to fund 10 pilot projects to test out plans to increase parenting support to all families with children under the age of two.
The plans, first outlined by Tony Blair last week, form part of the government’s latest drive to tackle social exclusion and reach society’s most disadvantaged individuals and families, many of whom are failed by existing services.
The demonstration projects, which will be launched in April, will predominantly be delivered through Sure Start children’s centres.
Midwives and health visitors will receive additional training in how to identify and engage at-risk families and deliver effective interventions to support parenting. They will be aided by a new evidence-based assessment tool to improve targeting and support, which will be evaluated as part of the pilot projects.
“Midwives and health visitors are ideally placed to identify children and families at risk and to provide intensive and structured home-visiting programmes to those who might benefit from additional support,” the social exclusion action plan states.
Faced with questions about how a health-led parenting support service would be resourced once it was rolled out across the country, health secretary Patricia Hewitt acknowledged that there had been a “small reduction” in the health visitor workforce in recent years but insisted this had been more than offset by the increase in other nurses working in the community.
“This programme underlines the value that we place on health visiting and other community nurses,” she said, speaking at the launch of the action plan.
The plan, which also sets out targeted support for teenage parents, children in care and adults with severe mental health problems, promises intervention where individual services fail to reach the most excluded. Local authority-wide provision, meanwhile, will be measured against a new composite indicator covering a range of local outcomes including infant mortality rates, proportions of young people not in education or training, and teenage conceptions.