Strengthening Families — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:51 pm on 8th February 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 2:51 pm, 8th February 2018

My hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson—it is south of Watford, anyway—spoke about prisons, which are an incredibly important matter. As I mentioned in an intervention, Stafford prison is in my constituency, and I had the privilege of visiting there at some length last Friday. I saw the excellent work that prison officers do with vulnerable prisoners and their families. It was a humbling experience to see the tremendous work that goes on there and the commitment and dedication of the officers, chaplains, staff and volunteers who put so much time into that. I am sure that outcomes would be considerably worse were it not for that dedication.

I would also like to follow on from what my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne said about the need for support for military families. I have well over 2,000 serving personnel, three Signals Regiments and the Tactical Supply Wing of the Royal Air Force in my constituency. I see the commitments that they make and the pressures they face. I also see the pressures put on families, particularly in Signals, where they are often sent on fairly small missions to all parts of the globe, whether the Falklands or the middle east. The same is true of the Tactical Supply Wing of the RAF. I draw attention to policy 5 in “A Manifesto to Strengthen Families”, which states:

“Parenting and relationship support should be made readily available for military families. Life in the Forces holds advantages for families”—

Carol Monaghan questioned that, which I can understand—

“but it can also impose unique and significant pressures.”

I welcome that policy and urge the Government to implement it.

I want to concentrate on mental health, which is increasingly spoken about in Parliament, which I welcome. The subject is sensitive to most in the House, given the prevalence of mental health problems in many families. According to the charity YoungMinds, one in 10 children has a diagnosable mental health disorder—that equates to three children in every classroom—and that statistic increases to one in five for young adults. That is a profound hardship for individuals and their loved ones. Due to its significant adverse effects on income, wages, employment and social mobility, poor child mental health has been calculated as having a lifetime cost in lost income of as much as £388,000, and that is just the monetary cost—we also have the more significant social and personal costs.

The Prime Minister has recognised that inadequate treatment for those suffering from mental health problems in Britain amounts to a

“burning injustice…that demands a new approach from government and society as a whole.”

Given that 50% of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14 and that 75% manifest by age 18, logic and evidence point to family circumstances being a hugely significant factor. That is why I wish to commend my hon. Friend for Congleton on securing this debate, which enables me to speak about a subject that needs more attention: the role that families play in a child’s mental health. I wish to make it clear that mental health can impact the most loving family, as well as the most challenged family. However, as ever in social policy, we need to follow the evidence and take appropriate action.

[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

The Early Intervention Foundation review commissioned by the Government concluded that inter-parental relationships are instrumental in determining a child’s mental health. Children of separated parents or in challenged families have been shown to be 50% more likely to fail at school, have low self-esteem, struggle with peer relationships and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression. That is supported by a review of 18 international studies that was published this year by the University of Sussex. It found that family breakdown is consistently linked to higher risks of depression in children. I draw attention to the fact that those are international studies; they are not just about the United Kingdom.

New research recently published by the Marriage Foundation uses the latest data on 14-year-old children in the millennium cohort study. It found that family breakdown is a major driver of teenage mental health problems. It is in stable homes with nurturing relationships that children have the best chance to thrive. Sadly, that is a far cry from many children’s experience. The recent Department for Work and Pensions report, “Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families”, found that by the age of 16, 47% of all children do not live with both birth parents. That statistic has been referred to before, but it is well worth repeating. Indeed, between one and three in 10 children live in families where their parents say they are in unhappy relationships. The Early Intervention Foundation recently concluded that

“childhood mental health...may be improved by working to promote the quality of the inter-parental relationship.”

Couple therapists who work for Tavistock Relationships have witnessed the reality of that at first hand. They reported that the mental health difficulties of children of couples with relationship problems were significantly alleviated if they engaged in couples therapy. That is a blind spot in current health care provision.

A child interviewed by Common Room Consulting described their experience of therapy. They said:

“The main focus was on me, and changing my behaviours and thinking patterns, not on the causes. I tried to tell people that home wasn’t good on a few occasions, but they didn’t seem to have the time or the space for these discussions to happen...the focus was on the impact of my behaviour on my parents and sisters.”

A couples therapist based in a children and young people’s mental health team stated that she was unaware of any other multidisciplinary teams nationally that provided the service as part of their approach to tackling children’s mental health. That needs to change.