Are we forgetting something? The link between mental health and parenting support is critical

Are we forgetting something? The link between mental health and parenting support is critical

  • Matt Buttery
  • 01 December 2016
  • Posted in: Healthcare

Given the impressive track record of evidence-based parenting programmes to improve mental health outcomes for children, I believe clinical commissioning groups have a social responsibility to ensure parents have access to clinically proven interventions.

However, last year’s Education Policy Institute’s Mental Health Commission report into Local Transformation Plans suggests this is far from the case.

Clear, consistent pathways to evidence-based parenting interventions are lacking across the UK.

The EPI report describes how teachers and head teachers are in the eye of a growing mental health storm as they struggle to deal with rising rates of children’s mental health problems.

And GPs tell us they routinely spend hours trying to find support for children because Child and Adult Mental Health Services across the country are unable to accept large numbers of referrals because of a number of compounding factors, including an inability to recruit highly trained specialist medical staff.

The ground-breaking Future in mind report specifically called for funding for children’s mental health to be redirected towards early intervention.

The problem is, opinions differ on how early the intervention should take place, or who should be targeted.

Confining early intervention measures to schools neglects the all-important early years, in which children’s life chances and long-term outcomes are fundamentally shaped by interaction with their parents.

Similarly, centring intervention measures solely on the child misses the wider dimension of family and community – the all-important environmental factors influencing the life chances of our future generations.

Unfortunately, the link between mental health and parenting support is all too often neglected in both current policymaking and health commissioning decisions.

The EPI Mental Health Commission also reports that the current system of commissioning actively prevents early intervention because local commissioners have a perverse incentive to refer children and young people to acute care.

“The British Psychological Society told us that where excellent community services were successfully preventing admissions to hospital, it was NHS England and not the CCGs who had commissioned them that received the financial benefit,’’ the report states.

It goes without saying that funding for acute care is critical. But ignoring the opportunities that early intervention and prevention provide through the role of parenting will only compound our existing problems.

We believe a strong political will is needed to ensure that Local Transformation Plans are truly focused on early intervention and prevention for children’s mental health and that a proportionate universalism approach that integrates support for parents across the community is adopted.

The Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) system can make inroads into the pressure on critical care services by shifting prevalence rates of children’s mental health problems across the community with a population-health approach to service provision.

This approach has been shown to prevent the growth of child maltreatment in areas of deprivation in the US and reduce prevalence rates of clinical levels of early onset mental health problems in children by 37 per cent in Ireland during a period of great economic stress.
It’s an approach that can go quickly to scale, with more than 20,000 Queensland families accessing Triple P in one year as part of that government’s decision to provide free access to the program.

Just over half of families participating in Triple P in Queensland accessed the clinically evaluated e-mental health solution, Triple P Online. Of these, the number disadvantaged families accessing the online intervention approached or exceeded community averages.
Both the Five Year Mental Health Plan and Future in mind recommend evidence-based parenting programmes as early intervention and preventative mental health services.

So too does the Department for Education’s advice on dealing with mental health in schools.

With Triple P now also linked to long-term effects such as improved literacy, numeracy and school attendance 15 years after universal access to the program, the argument for clear access to evidence-based parenting programs is compelling.

Evidence-based parenting programmes are an extremely cost-effective way of preventing and treating mental health problems in children because non-specialist staff can be trained to deliver the interventions with high-fidelity.

The fact that there convincing evidence to show the value of online interventions such as Triple P Online, including improving children’s ADHD symptoms, means that the economic argument for their community-wide adoption is undeniable.


Article by Matt Buttery, CEO, Triple P UK

To hear more about Triple P UK and the work they are doing, join us at Children and Young People’s Mental Health: Promoting Integration and Early Intervention on December 8th at Manchester Conference Centre. 

  • mental health
  • health and social care
  • Health and Social Care Services.
  • improving health outcomes.
  • public health
  • Article Author

About Matt Buttery

With responsibilities for the dissemination of the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program® across the UK and Europe, Matt Buttery is a passionate advocate of parenting as a public health issue and using evidence-based practice to help families and communities develop strong, healthy relationships and resilience. 

Matt has held various senior roles …