Speaking as the chair of the cross-party inquiry by MPs into perinatal health and child maltreatment - the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry for Conception to Age 2 - Mr Loughton said that the first 1,001 days of a child’s life should be as important to ministers as the ‘defence of the realm’.
The panel of MPs heard from experts in child development and health over a number of months and the report published today makes nine recommendations drawing on that evidence.
It claims that £23 billion each year - more than two-thirds of the annual defence budget - is spent on failing to deal adequately with perinatal mental health and child maltreatment.
It concludes that local policies need to be based on a commitment to primary prevention, and that without intervention there will be high inter-generational transmission of disadvantage, inequality, dysfunction and child maltreatment.
The report is backed by the chief medical officer, Royal Colleges and children’s and health charities.
Its first recommendation is for all political parties to commit to achieving the very best experience for children in their first 1,001 days, which should also be a key priority for NHS England.
Secondly, all local authorities, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and Health and Wellbeing boards should prioritise the social and emotional development of all children to the age of two by adopting and implementing a ‘1001-days’ strategy within five years.
A further recommendation calls for 'a minister for families and best start in life' with cross-departmental responsibility with a remit to draw up a '1001-days' strategy masterplan within 12 months of the general election. The minister should either be in, or report directly to, the Cabinet.
Mr Loughton said, ‘The cost of failing to deal adequately with perinatal mental health and child maltreatment has been estimated at £23 billion each year. As our report shows the two are closely linked and more importantly largely avoidable. That is the equivalent of more than two thirds of the annual defence budget going on a problem that is widespread and when unchecked passes from one poorly parented generation to the next. Tackling it should be no less a priority for our politicians and our health and social care professionals than defence of the realm.’
Frank Field MP, co-chair of the APPG, said, ‘Generations of well-meaning politicians have attempted to improve social mobility in our country through schools policy. However, a weight of research now indicates that school comes too late to significantly improve the life chances of many poor children. This is why it is so important to act in the first 1,001 days, from conception to age two, and I am delighted to be part of the cross-party consensus backing this important report.’
Kate Mulley, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said, ‘Equipping and supporting parents to provide a safe and nurturing upbringing for their child in the crucial early years can make a difference that lasts a lifetime.
‘Getting all local services to work together to help families with problems early rather than once they become crises is the right approach to effectively tackling child maltreatment.
‘We know from our work on neglect that early help services can play a crucial role in prevention and that children’s centres are ideally placed in communities to offer parents access to a wide range of support from conception onwards.’
Tim Loughton writes for Nursery World on the 1001 critical days
KEY STATISTICS FROM THE REPORT:
- Depression and anxiety affect 10-15 out of every 100 pregnant women.
- Over a third of domestic violence begins in pregnancy.
- 20 per cent or more of UK adults have suffered 'significant maltreatment'.
- WHO estimates that child maltreatment is responsible for almost a quarter of the burden of mental disorders, with economic and social costs on a par with those for cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart, and respiratory diseases.
- Preventing abuse, neglect and witnessing domestic violence could cut heroin/crack use by 59 per cent, violence by 51 per cent, incarceration by 53 per cent and unplanned teen pregnancies by 38 per cent.
- Mental health problems affect up to 20 per cent of women during the perinatal period.
- 122,000 babies under one live with a parent who has a mental health problem.
- Infant regulatory disturbances - i.e excessive crying, feeding or sleeping dificulties and bonding/ attachment issues - are the main reasons for referrals to child health clinics.
- Around 20 per cent of 18-month-olds have regulatory problems.
- About 15 per cent of children have 'disorganised attachment behaviour', which is linked with problems including high levels of disruptive behaviour, school and pre-school exclusion, poor physical and mental health, and entry into the criminal justice system.