Straw launches family stress inquiry launched

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The Independent Online
THE STRESS points in family life need to be established so that education on how to be a parent can be directed to help families at certain critical times, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said yesterday.

Every family is put under enormous pressure at certain points during a child's development, he told the Parenting Matters Conference, which was organised by Barnardo's, the children's charity. The arrival of a baby, when a child moves from primary to secondary school and when public examinations are taken at ages 16 and 18 were cited by the Home Secretary as times when many families may need help.

"At all these stages we want to find out what help is available and what it means for families today," he said. "We live in a fast-changing society. The proportion of women who want to work has increased in the past 30 years and, as the Government, we have to respond to changing social and economic pressures on our society and deal with them."

The Government has committed pounds 2m over the next three years to the establishment of a National Family and Parenting Institute. The institute is due to appoint a chief executive by the end of June and one of its first tasks will be to sort out where and when families need help. A spokesman said: "We will be mapping the services available and finding the gaps. This will allow us to find the critical points in both a child's life and family life."

An NOP survey unveiled at the conference yesterday showed that nearly half of the 1,000 parents interviewed thought looking after children was more difficult than it was 10 years ago and nearly two-thirds said that they found it difficult.

They also said that they found parenting more difficult as the child became older.

Mr Straw said: "There are substantial pressures on us all to succeed, to earn more, and to work far too hard and many feel that the time they have with their families is under great pressure. We need to make space for families and also for ourselves so that our children can thrive."

The Government, which is looking to shore up families and help people to become better parents, is particularly concerned at the amount of time fathers spend with their families. Previous research has shown that some men spend less than 15 minutes a day with their children. "We want to provide better support for young men so they can fully realise their potential and work on encouraging fathers on their role," Mr Straw said. "Most fathers want to be in the delivery room, to witness the birth of their child, and it is now about getting them to spend more time with them as they grow up."

Football clubs could play an active role in helping fathers to learn about parenting, Mr Straw told the conference. "Alongside special programmes, like those run by Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, to help children in danger of being excluded, parenting support could also be available for the fathers."

Mr Straw was keen to stress that the Government was not seeking to interfere in family life. "It is about the practical support the Government can provide to help parents do the best they can for their children," he said.