Thursday, July 23, 1998 Published at 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Babies promised a 'Sure Start'
Parents will be visited within three months of a baby's birth
An integrated package of childcare services for new parents has been launched by the government, with the aim of reducing the social cost of poor parenting.
The "Sure Start" programme will bring together education, health and social services for young children, funded with £540m made available in last week's spending review.
"We're doing everything we can to support parents to do their best for their children," said the Health Minister Tessa Jowell, who promised that the new scheme would improve upon "expensive, fragmented services that never quite get it right for children".
"The alternative is a continuing massive waste of public money spent dealing with the consequences of poor parenting, including delinquency and social exclusion."
Under the scheme, all new parents will be visited by a Sure Start representative before their baby reaches three months, who will offer advice on health care, feeding, local childcare services, play centres and extra support for children with special physical or behavioural needs.
Conservatives warn against nanny state
These Sure Start visitors, who will be based in local schools or health centres, will supplement the services already offered by health visitors. The government intends an initial 250 Sure Start centres to be established within three years.
This more interventionist approach to providing services for new families was criticised by the Shadow Education Secretary, David Willetts, who claimed it was a further step towards a "nanny state".
He also said that the more structured approach to childcare might lead to the loss of "the rich variety of voluntary and independent provision for three year olds and younger".