Parents are being invited to have their say on what support they need, and how it is best delivered, so that every baby is given the best start in life, no matter what their circumstances.
A major new review into improving the healthy development of infants was launched by the Department of Health and Social Care in July, aiming to break down the barriers that can impact on early years development and level up the opportunities given to every newborn.
Led by Early Years Healthy Development Advisor, MP Andrea Leadsom, this review will focus on improving the support available to babies and their families in the period from conception to age two, often referred to as the 1,001 critical days, having a significant impact on physical health, mental health and opportunity throughout their life.
The review will consider the barriers that impact on early years development, including social and emotional factors, and early childhood experiences.
New parents, health service professionals, charities and volunteer groups are being asked to share their views to help shape the outcome of the review, by completing an online questionnaire which went live on gov.uk on Friday.
Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “To help inform our work on the Early Years Development Review we want to hear from new or expectant parents, carers and healthcare professionals about their experiences of life with baby throughout this recent critical and unusual time living with coronavirus. What worked well and what could have been improved – so we can ensure babies and young children are supported and nurtured during these vital early years.
“Now is your chance to help shape this important piece of work, so please let us know your views through our online questionnaire so we can better understand what building blocks we need for those first critical 1001 days.”
The review is part of the Government’s commitment to levelling up the country and helping every child reach their full potential, building on policy already in place.
Throughout the pandemic, community health and mental health services have continued to deliver vital safeguarding functions and to provide support for new parents or parents of small children, with greater use of digital and remote technologies. During lockdown, a further £3.3 million in funding was also awarded to the Health and Wellbeing Fund to support mothers and babies, including improving perinatal mental health.
The Government has also committed to transforming maternity services as part the NHS Long Term Plan, backed by an extra £33.9 billion a year by 2023/24, to help the NHS become the safest place in the world to give birth.
Andrea Leadsom said: “As well as helping the review to shape the services needed by new babies and their parents, this questionnaire will help to gather experiences of parents who had a baby during the coronavirus lockdown.
“This will help us to understand the many challenges faced, as well as to learn what worked well and what new innovations we can build on. The findings of this questionnaire will help the review to shape our recommendations and to promote the best start in life for every baby.”
The review will seek a broad improvement in outcomes, ranging from reducing disparities in birth weight, improving social and emotional development in early years, and reducing the impact of vulnerability and adverse childhood experiences in infancy.
Research from NHS England suggests that one in five mums and one in 10 dads experience mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth. Pregnancy can often be a trigger for domestic abuse, with between 15-30% of domestic violence cases starting during this time.
Understanding lessons learnt from Covid-19, including how to provide better support for parents during childbirth, minimising the risks from the pandemic to very young children, and the better use of technology, the Government will work with academics, health professionals and other experts to identify policies and services that will improve the outcomes for vulnerable babies, children and their families.
As part of the next phase of the review, Ms Leadsom will be engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, including independent academic experts, maternity and children’s specialists, leading commissioners, service providers and volunteers, and parliamentarians.
She is expected to submit her findings and policy recommendations from the first phase of the review in January 2021. This Vision for Excellence in the period from conception to age two will be rolled out across England during 2021.