Labour puts state intervention at heart of family policy

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The Independent Online
Labour made a new bid yesterday to become the party of family values, promising to intervene to promote marriage and to encourage fathers to spend more time with their children.

The party's plans for the under-fives include recruiting volunteer "foster grandparents" to help families in need of support, and teaching parenting skills in schools and colleges.

Health visitors would have an increased role under a Labour government, and employers would be asked to develop "family-friendly" policies.

Announcing the new policy yesterday, David Blunkett, Labour's spokesman for Education and Employment, said that while the Conservatives regarded family life as private, Labour intended to intervene before crises arose.

"This may not be safe territory but it is absolutely necessary territory," he said.

"We want to reinforce security and stability in relationships to underpin the ability to keep marriages together."

Labour would build on a project in Newcastle which encourages men to take pride in being fathers by organising day trips and workshops for them and their children.

The party has also looked at an American scheme in which retired people "adopt" a vulnerable youngster and his or her family. "Grandfathers" could provide male role models for one-parent families, as well as offering practical support. In this country, Age Concern has already begun a pilot project.

Labour's plans to ask all secondary schools to teach parenting would be backed by extra schemes designed to teach existing mothers and fathers better parenting skills.

Parents who choose to stay at home with their children would be given equal encouragementto those who go out to work. The party wants to set up a network of play and education centres which can look after children before and after school.

Contracts, which could be compulsory, would spell out parents' and children's rights and responsibilities, even at nursery school.

Labour's plans for nursery education include offering places to all four- year-olds and setting targets for three-year-olds, funded partly by money now being spent on vouchers, and partly by Europe.

It wants to set up Early Excellence Centres, which would care for children from birth to five and train child-minders. New nursery places would be planned by "early years forums" set up by local authorities and including representatives from the private and voluntary sectors.

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