Parenting interventions need to be widely available and targeted at the children who need them most, says a new report from the Centre for Mental Health.

A Chance to Change, a review of the implementation of parenting programmes, claim these interventions dramatically improve children's futures. The organisation calls upon the Government to spearhead a national campaign to raise public and professional awareness of childhood conduct problems and do more to support well-implemented and evidence-based early interventions.

The review found that the majority of parents whose children have behavioural problems ask for help, usually from GPs or teachers, but few receive the support that can make a difference. In many areas the number of evidence-based programmes is not sufficient to meet need.

One child in 20 has a severe behavioural problem while another 15% have a moderate behavioural problem. Behavioural problems have a devastating impact on a child's future, greatly increasing the risk of suicide, poor health, unemployment and crime.

Yet behavioural problems can be either prevented or managed using simple, cost-effective interventions. In most cases, evidence-based parenting programmes can, in a short time, support parents to manage their child's behaviour and improve their health and life chances. These programmes represent outstanding value for money over the course of a child's life, paying for themselves many times over in public expenditure savings and wider economic benefits.

National policy is supportive of early intervention, but budget cuts are adversely affecting implementation at the local level. Where programmes are provided, they are not always targeted towards the families who need them most. Many programmes suffer from low take-up and high drop-out. And not all are run faithfully to the programme's design by staff with the right skills to deliver them most effectively.

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: "Where parenting programmes are delivered properly they have an enormous impact. By investing early in a child's future there is the potential to dramatically improve a child's chances in life and save millions in future costs in health, education, social care and criminal justice.

"But these programmes must be delivered faithfully to the proven model and targeted to where there is the greatest need. Attempting to economise on parenting interventions greatly reduces their effectiveness and may even make matters worse. Proposed changes to the Early Intervention Grant next year could see funding for parenting interventions squeezed further and undermine the Government's aim of enhancing early years interventions."

Graham Allen MP, author of the Government's independent review of early years interventions, said: "Early intervention works. Parents want the best for their children and parenting interventions can help them to improve the health of future generations. Cities like Nottingham have led the way in making early years interventions available to families and we need to encourage more local authorities to do the same. The threatened loss of the Early Intervention Grant could undermine these efforts and make it harder for local authorities to give more children a better start in life."

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