The government should offer classes which teach parents how to raise their children, a health expert has suggested.
Professor John Ashton, the President of the Faculty of Public Health (FPH), believes that these classes could help prevent health problems as children grow up, including anxiety, anorexia or obesity.
Over the last 60 or 70 years, society has “done well in terms of producing live, healthy babies”, he explained, but between ten and 15 per cent of children “are in trouble emotionally or mentally” by the time they leave school.
“Having produced healthy babies we then set about neglecting them”, he said.
Professor Ashton’s comments followed the publication of a new report from the FPH which called for improvements to children’s mental health services. These issues “account for more disability than all physical health problems put together”, the report reads. Experts may not know “how much of the burden of mental illness could be prevented [but they] know prevention is possible”.
Report author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown insisted that support for parents was the key factor in good mental health for children. “The first 1,001 days of a child’s life are particularly important”, she said.
In addition to parental support, programmes in schools, doctors’ surgeries, workplaces and in the wider community would be helpful, Professor Stewart-Brown suggested. These measures would be especially significant as more than “three-quarters of all mental health problems emerge in childhood and adolescence”.
Earlier this month, the Children’s Commissioner found that as many as a quarter of children who were referred for mental health treatment last year did not receive any.
The FPH is a standard-setting body for public health specialists across the country.