Embargoed until 00:01 Monday 9 November 2009

The think tank Demos today calls for an end to the “conspiracy of silence” on poor parenting. Following the release of a major report Building Character on Sunday, which identified strong links between parenting style and character development in children, Demos recommends urgent action from the Government to support society’s most vulnerable infants and their parents.

The Building Character report highlights evidence that a particular group of children aged 0-3 are more vulnerable to parental influence than others.

Due to pre-natal conditions (consumption of drugs or alcohol, depression, or if the mother is in a high stress or violent environment) some infants are predisposed to being particularly vulnerable to both good and bad parental influence. This uniquely susceptible group had the potential to vastly under-perform or out-perform their peers in terms of gaining the character capabilities vital for success and wellbeing.

The Building Character report, which analysed longitudinal data from over 9,000 households in the UK, found that eight per cent of families have parents that are ‘disengaged’, which is approximately 600,000 families. These families are also most likely to be found amongst low-income groups, leaving particularly vulnerable children triply disadvantaged by pre-natal conditions, parenting and economic factors.

This new analysis suggests that the situation of at risk children may be both graver and more hopeful than previously assumed.  Targeted and early intervention – in the form of a ‘Half Birthday Check-up’ – can support parents to provide a warm and consistent input can encourage the vital character development these disadvantaged infants need.


Richard Reeves, co-author of the report and director of demos said:

“The right is obsessed with family structure and the institution of marriage rather than the actual job of parenting, while the Left is more comfortable with economic explanations and is terrified of appearing judgemental. The result is to deepen disadvantage for already deprived children.

“Parenting is the final frontier for issues of social justice and social mobility. No government can ignore the fact that some parents need more support than others: we must end this conspiracy of silence.

“If we want to seriously address social mobility in the UK it must start in the home and with children under the age of five.”


Demos calls upon the government to:

Refocus Sure Start as a tool for early intervention: Sure Start should be less focused on childcare and more focused on child development, particularly parent-child interaction. Sure Start could also act as a more effective hub for creating peer relationships that can be central to parental support.

Give health visitors an early years role: More emphasis should be placed on health visitors’ role in identifying and supporting positive parenting. Health visitors should carry out a ‘Half-Birthday Check-up’ to monitor progress and identify families that need extra support.


Notes to editors:

Building Character by Jen Lexmond and Richard Reeves is launched at an event at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on Wednesday 11 November 2009.  Richard Reeves (Director, Demos), Prof. Stephen Scott (National Academy for Parenting Practitioners) and Maria Miller MP (Conservative Shadow Minister for the Family) will take part in a debate chaired by Jenni Russell (Writer and Commentator).  For more information please contact

Jen Lexmond, Richard Reeves and Sonia Sodha are available for interview.  For broadcast inquiries or to request an interview please contact:


Beatrice Karol Burks, Press Officer

020 7367 6325

07929 474938


Peter Harrington, Head of Communications

020 7367 6338

07939 664133