A 1995 study by the Department of Health found that 91 per cent of children had been hit, and almost one in six had experienced "severe punishment" by a parent. Three quarters of one-year-olds in the study had already been smacked.

Physical punishment of children has been outlawed in Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Bans are in process in Germany, Ireland and Croatia, and being debated in Poland and Switzerland.

The number of British children experiencing mental ill-health has increased since the Forties to one in five.

Compared with earlier generations, children are physically more healthy, have a longer life expectancy, are better educated and have more spending power. However, they are also more likely than earlier generations to experience unemployment, take drugs, suffer psycho-social disorders, experience parental separation or divorce, and engage in criminal behaviour. (Mental Health Foundation report, The Big Picture, 1998.)

Research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in September 1998 shows that parents have little knowledge of what parent support is available, but most parents interviewed wanted more support and felt that they would use such a service.

There is evidence to show that parent education programmes are an effective way of improving the behaviour of pre-adolescent children who have behavioural problems. The effects last over time, although in a number of studies as many as 50 per cent of parents continued to experience difficulties. (Barnardo's report, Parenting Matters: What Works in Parenting Education?)

An independent evaluation of Parent Network courses in 1996 found that after completing the course 93 per cent of parents felt more confident, 72 per cent observed a significant improvement in their children's behaviour, and 95 per cent felt they had gained new skills. (quoted in the Government green paper, Supporting Families).