According to various media reports, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was to declare that marriage was "best" for raising children:
"Mr Duncan Smith will say the strategy marks a change in the approach to marriage. Successive governments have done too little to promote stable families, he will say.
"Research shows that about one in three cohabiting couples splits up before a child's fifth birthday, compared with one in 10 married couples.
"'This Government believes marriage often provides an excellent environment in which to bring up children,' it says. "The Government is clear that marriage should be supported.
"Mr Duncan Smith said he was not 'lecturing' parents on how to live, merely setting out the facts on the advantages of marriage and commitment."
However, it is unclear whether it is Mr Smith who is not "lecturing", or his spin doctors in their media briefings or the newspapers reporting it who are "lecturing".
The "Social Justice Command paper" (pdf) takes a more balanced view:
"Analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study shows that around one in ten married parents split before a child's fifth birthday, compared to one in three cohabiting couples. Given that married relationships tend to have greater longevity and stability than other forms, this Government believes marriage often provides an excellent environment in which to bring up children. So the Government is clear that marriage should be supported and encouraged.
"But many couples are choosing not to get married and still go on to provide good family environments. Evidence suggests that the way in which a family functions has even more effect on outcomes for children than the type of family structure (e.g. whether they are a lone parent or married couple).
"Both the quality and stability of the relationship between a child's parents are particularly influential factors in determining later life outcomes .
"This is not to say that lone-parents and step families cannot provide high levels of love and support for children all types of family structure have the potential to provide the stability that is vital for enabling good outcomes. But whilst this is not the case in every situation we should recognise that the impact of multiple relationship transitions and changes in family structure are particularly detrimental to children.40 So, where it is practicable and safe, the presence of the same two parents in a warm, stable relationship throughout childhood is particularly important."
So yes, the stability of parents' relationships is a key factor in children's prospects not necessarily the "type" of relationship.
"We need to be aware of adults' roles and responsibilities in creating the environment in which children grow. Schools are expected to compensate not just for parents' shortcomings, but also for the pressures adult society imposes on young people.
"I'm uncomfortable about the direction society is going. Missing from the lives of many disenfranchised teenagers is a functioning parental figure. If there's no functioning parent, there's no food in the house, no-one washes your clothes, you don't go to the dentist. You live in chaos. If you have good care as a child, you can survive almost anything. Emotional deprivation is a lethal weapon "
As the "command paper" states:
"We know that children raised by parents reporting high relationship quality and satisfaction tend to have higher levels of wellbeing, while intense conflict between parents has been shown to be detrimental to children's outcomes. Children who experience sustained inter-parental conflict are at greater risk of anxiety and depression, increased aggression, hostility and anti-social behaviour.
"This is especially acute in cases where children live with domestic violence, for example 40 per cent of children from families where domestic violence is an issue exhibit clinically significant emotional and behavioural problems."
"When families are strong and stable, so are children. We know that children raised by parents reporting high relationship quality and satisfaction tend to have higher levels of wellbeing, while intense conflict between parents has been shown to be detrimental to children’s outcomes. And when families break down, the consequences can be severe."
However, he then launches into the type of sweeping generalisations beloved of politicians:
"But if family is the most important building block in a child’s life, school is often the second most important.
"Yet our schools have been failing pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds time and again."
Here we go again! How are schools failing them? As the speech goes on to say:
"It’s as if previous governments came to terms with the fact that some children would be disruptive or repeatedly absent from school ."
How we make a difference to this "educational underclass" is a complex problem that can't simply be laid at the door of schools or parents.
"The social mobility problem is not that there is a small number of weak schools serving a lot of poor kids. It is that poor children do badly in the majority of England's schools."
"'It's not schools or universities. It's families': If we want children from poor backgrounds to get on, we must raise aspirations at home".
To quote the SecEd article again:
"Parents have to take their share of responsibility, but so have adults who comprise and vote for governments, control the media, commercialise children, promote the cult of celebrity, or promote greedy, selfish behaviour adults who don't understand 'community'.
"The children's agenda can't exist outside of a vision for the whole of society. The government needs to articulate what sort of a society it's trying to create and to share it with us. That includes the responsibilities we all bear as adults and parents."
There are no easy answers. "How do we give our children a good start in life?" looked at seemingly conflicting research:
"A study of 11,000 seven-year-old children by researchers from the University of London's Institute of Education found that social class has more effect on children than good parenting. The report found that parents' social class has a greater impact on how well their children between the ages of five and seven perform at school than 'good parenting' techniques such as reading bedtime stories. Parents in professional and managerial jobs were at least eight months ahead of pupils from the most socially disadvantaged homes. Alice Sullivan, the main author of the study, said the research showed that 'while parenting is important, a policy focus on parenting alone is insufficient to tackle the impacts of social inequalities on children . Redistributive economic policies may be more effective than policies directly addressing parenting practices,' she said.
"[However] The Foundation Years: preventing Poor Children Becoming Poor Adults (pdf) published by the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances, conducted by Frank Field found 'huge class differences in the range of children's abilities measurable on their first day at school. For many poor children life's race is by then already effectively over' .
"The report recommends attempting to prevent poor children from becoming poor adults by 'establishing a set of Life Chances Indicators that will measure how successful we are as a country in making life's outcomes more equal for all children' .
"Like the IOE report, it concludes that 'parents are the key drivers in determining their children's life chances' although it finds that 'it is not so much who parents are what their jobs are but what parent do how they nurture their children which, the evidence shows, determines a child's life's race'."
So, supporting families is essential, and children need stable and loving families, but the media and politicians should refrain from passing moral judgements on which "type" of family is best. They need to remember how children and families themselves feel.
Children and parents should not be made to feel by other children and parents, or by politicians or the media that they are a second-class family because the parents are not married or because there is only one parent around, for whatever reason, be that an abusive relationship that could not continue to or the death of a parent.
Schools, too, cannot be held responsible for wider social problems it is society in general and government after government in particular that has "failed" "pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds time and again."