A WAR of words has erupted over a flagship programme to improve parenting skills in Glasgow.

Researchers claim the Triple P - Positive Parenting Programme - had minimal impact on families from deprived backgrounds and may even have increased social inequality because of the high drop-out rate.

However, that was rejected by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, who funded the project and the research into its impact at a cost, they say, of £3.8m.

Director of Public Health for NHSGCC, Dr Linda de Caestecker, said the report was a "flawed evaluation" based on limited evidence.

The report, which reflects several years' work, claims that fewer than half of families completed the Australian derived programme and those with severe problems were the most likely to drop out.

Around 5000 children each year - 25,000 in total - were assessed at the age of five from 2010 for emotional wellbeing.

The report claims the social and emotional functioning of the children did not improve as the programme was rolled out and the years progressed.

The children of the families who had dropped out were found to have the most problems.

Families living in deprived areas were more likely to start Triple P interventions but those living in affluent areas were more likely to complete the course, according to the report.

Glasgow City Council, which part-funded the independent report, has accepted its findings.

Researchers say some mothers were given an initial confidence boost about their parenting skills from attending group sessions, which led to a perceived improvement in their children's behaviour, but this was only temporary.

But Dr de Caestecker, said: "NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde rejects the conclusions of this report due its lack of robustness.

"Despite consistent and overwhelming evidence from parents and practitioners that Triple P is delivering improved outcomes, the report authors claim that it is not possible to attribute these improvements to the parenting programme.

"The data in the report is limited because parents did not complete the post-course assessment forms.

"No attempt was made by the authors to answer a key question - why people appear not to have completed these forms?"

Children from the Shettleston ward in the city's East End recorded the highest levels of emotional, social and behavioural problems, while kids in Hillhead, Pollokshields and Linn had the lowest levels.

The £190,000 report was carried out by the University of Glasgow and funded by the Scottish Government, NHSGGC and Glasgow City Council and has recommended that the board does not continue to fund the programme.

Around 730 practitioners were trained to deliver the £3m scheme between 2009 and 2013, with around £5m spent on staffing and more than 30,000 interventions delivered to families.

Families who completed the scheme reported high levels of satisfaction and reported improvements in parenting behaviours, emotional wellbeing and child behaviour.

However the report found it was not possible to say whether these improvements were a result of the intervention.

Study author Professor Philip Wilson, an expert in infant mental health and a former GP, said: "The evaluation was independently and impartially conducted and is has not given the answers the health board was hoping for.

"This is a very disappointing response from the health board and belies several years' work and huge efforts on the part of the evaluation team to ensure good quality data could be made available to allow a robust and impartial evaluation."

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: "It is clear that further work is still required if we are to understand fully the effectiveness of our parenting programmes and what is required for those services to be improved."

Matt Buttery, head of Triple P UK said: "We have worked closely with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde on the development and roll-out of the programme at a local level. We believe it has proved to be an effective tool to improve access to parenting support and increase participation in parenting programmes in the city."

caroline.wilson@ eveningtimes.co.uk