Not just an idea: A parenting vaccine is needed

17 August 2020

We need a ‘vaccine’ against neglect and abuse in the lives of children, according to a report today from leading experts in social policy, who maintain families have been hit hard by the virus but one billion children a year around the world are already victims of a multi-billion-pound pandemic of violence.

According to the paper ‘The Parenting Vaccine’, from Oxford’s Professor Lucie Cluver and Ben Perks, Head of Campaigns and Advocacy of UNICEF, the world is waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine but support measures are like a 'parenting vaccine' for families, ‘Challenges of parenting under the strain of the epidemic are near-universal...the situation of fragile families affected by violence and neglect has worsened, abusers have had increased impunity and victims have been cut off.’

Speaking about the report, Professor Cluver says, ‘A universal parenting vaccine is not just an idea. It is possible – even during COVID. There are two billion children in the world. In the past four months, UNICEF, WHO and the University of Oxford have developed free, evidence-based COVID-19 parenting resources that have reached 66 million people. With a real effort – over the next two years of COVID impacts – we can reach all families.’

The COVID-19 parenting project, backed by UKRI, has seen resources translated into dozens of languages and used around the world. Ben Perks insists, ‘Providing support for parenting and nurturing caregiving at the population level is an accelerator for prevention of neglect and abuse and their costly and lifelong impacts on mental and physical health.’

Published in Nature Human Behaviour, the pair’s paper argues, ‘Before COVID-19, systematic reviews identified that a billion children a year were already victims of violence, costing 2-5% of global GDP.’

They continue, ‘What we need is a ‘vaccine’ against neglect and abuse in the lives of children. And recent research shows that a cost-effective preventative service does exist....this builds on decades of previous research. Evidence-based parenting programmes support families with the common challenges of raising children while respecting parents’ capacity to solve problems.... In the past two years, randomised controlled trials have shown that families accessing parenting programmes have reductions in violence, mental health problems, alcohol use and extreme poverty.’

Arguing that a parenting ‘vaccine’, of preventative measures, would both break the cycle of violence and save the international community funds, the article says, ‘Delivery costs in countries that have scaled up non-commercial parenting programmes nationally, such as the Philippines and South Africa, is around $18 per family – similar to a standard flu vaccine...

‘The world needs a universal, public health approach both to prevent COVID-19, and also to break the inter-generational transmission of toxic stress that the pandemic has exposed.’

Notes for Editors

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  1. The paper will be published in Nature Human Behaviour, and will be available here or it is available from the Oxford news office.
  2. Lucie Cluver is a professor of child and family social work in Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Social Intervention in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention,
  3. Benjamin Perks is Senior Fellow in the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at Birmingham University and Head of Campaigns and Advocacy at UNICEF, the United Nations children’s’ organisation;
  4. The COVID-19 parenting resources project is support by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The GCRF is a £1.5 billion UK Government fund to support cutting-edge research and innovation that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

About the Department of Social Policy and Intervention
The Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford is a multidisciplinary centre of excellence for research and teaching in social policy and the development and systematic evaluation of social interventions. It is the top-ranked Social Policy department in the UK, and third globally.

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