Analysis of research on the effectiveness of parenting programmes in helping address severe child behaviour problems, such as conduct disorder, concludes that they cut by around half the number of young children that meet the clinical threshold for diagnosis.
The analysis, by the Centre for Mental Health (CfMH), also finds that every pound spent on parenting support delivers £4 of annual savings to health, education and social care services.
The CfMH report, Building a Better Future, finds that the average cost of delivering a 12-week parenting intervention, such as the Triple P and Incredible Years programmes, is £1,300.
In comparison, it calculates that the annual costs of severe behavioural problems is £5,000 in funding additional health, social care and education services for young children, and in youth justice interventions for those over 10 years old.
Children with severe behavioural problems are many times more likely to develop drug addictions, leave school with no qualifications, be imprisoned and become a teenage parent.
It says there is strong evidence to show that the lifetime costs of delivering services and support to these children totals around £260,000, and for those with moderate problems £85,000.
The report says that five per cent of children aged between five and 10 display behavioural problems severe enough to be diagnosed as a mental health condition. A further 15 per cent display worrying behaviour but fall below the diagnosis threshold.
Michael Parsonage, an economist who worked on the report, said the cost of conduct disorder was likely to be even higher than the figures estimated.
“We only cover easy-to-measure costs, so it is probably an underestimate. For example, it doesn’t take into account the mental health impact on victims of crime,” he explained.
“Parenting programmes improve parenting practice, the child’s behaviour as well as the mental health of both. We don’t know how long these benefits persist, but you only need to have a modest improvement in outcomes to save a huge amount of money.
“These programmes are good value for money and pay for themselves within three to five years, initially in savings for education and then for the youth justice system.”
Parenting programmes support families with children aged three to 11 by teaching parents in groups about the principles of good parenting, develop parents’ problem-solving skills and how to change behaviour.