Report Overview

The idea that parenting matters for early child development is now firmly recognised by policymakers. It is well established that parents’ investments influence young children’s development, and their chances in life. Parenting is one of the most important drivers of social inequalities in cognitive development before school. We also know that good parenting and early development can play a protective role for children growing up in otherwise disadvantaged settings. But what is good parenting, and how can we promote it from the very start? This report includes a review of literature on attachment theory and considers its implications for public policy, particularly for disadvantaged children.

This report is written by Elizabeth Washbrook, Jane Waldfogel and Sophie Moullin.

Key Findings
  • The bond that children develop with their parents, particularly as a babies and toddlers, is fundamental to their flourishing.
  • Children without secure parental bonds are more likely to have behaviour and literacy problems.
  • Boys growing up in poverty are two and a half times less likely to display behaviour problems at school if they have secure attachments with parents in the early years. Those without strong bonds may be more likely to be NEET, and less likely to be socially mobile and get good jobs in later life.
  • Many children do not have secure attachments. Around 1 in 4 children avoid their parents when they are upset, because they ignore their needs. A further 15 per cent resist their parents because they cause them distress.
  • The strongest predictor for children being insecurely attached is having a parent who is not securely attached themselves.
  1. Children’s Centres should do more to improve parenting, especially for the under-threes.
  2. Health visitors and other health services should play a stronger role in supporting attachment and parenting.
  3. Local authorities and health services should enhance home visiting and parenting programmes for higher risk families, through the government’s early intervention and troubled families agendas.