'Government must kick start an early years revolution', urge MPs

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The Health and Social Care Committee wants the Government to produce a long-term strategy for the first 1,000 days of life to improve support and services for children and families.

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The Health and Social Care Committee urges the Government to make 'massive' investments in early intervention

Within its new report 'First 1,000 days of life' – conception to age two, the Committee says that if Government is serious about prevention and reducing health inequalities, then ‘massive investments are needed, as well as co-ordinated action right at the start of life’.

The report is based upon evidence submitted to the Committee’s inquiry, which highlighted a growing crisis in children’s mental health amid cuts to health visiting, closure of children’s centres and increasing child poverty.

To improve support and services for children, parent and families, the Committee makes the following recommendations:

  • The Government produce a long-term cross-Government strategy setting demanding goals to reduce adverse childhood experiences, improve ‘school readiness’ and reduce infant mortality and child poverty. The strategy should be led by the Cabinet Office.
  • All local authorities to develop plans with the NHS, communities and the voluntary sector to implement the strategy.
  • The Healthy Child programme to be revised, improved and given greater impetus. The programme should be expanded to focus on the health of the whole family, begin before conception, and extend visits beyond age three to three-and-a-half to check children are on course to achieve the level of development deems necessary to start school.
  • The Government develop a programme which children and parents in need of targeted support can access, building on the Flying Start programmes in Wales and the Family Nurse Partnership in Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of England.

It goes on to say that the Government must use the Comprehensive Spending Review this year to shift to public expenditure towards intervening earlier rather than later.

Dr Paul Williams MP (practising GP), who led the Committee’s inquiry, said, ‘There is a crisis in children’s mental health in this country. But all we are seeing are cuts to health visiting, children’s centre closures and increasing child poverty. Government must show inspiring leadership to help children get the best possible start in life.

‘Quite simply, I want this country to be the most supportive and caring place in the world that a child could be born into.’

The Committee’s report follows the launch of a cross-working Government group, chaired by the leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom MP, to identify gaps in support and services for families from when a child is conceived up to the age of two (first 1,001 days).

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said, 'Children's health is a key priority for this Government and we want every child to have the best start in life.

'The NHS Long Term Plan has committed to make the NHS one of the best places in the world to give birth and expand provision of quality mental health support for new and expectant mothers and their families.

'The Health Secretary has also set out his prevention vision, supporting good health and support for families to stop problems developing in the first place.'

Comments

The Early Intervention Foundation welcomed the report.

Chief executive Dr Jo Casebourne said, 'We warmly welcome this report from the health and social care committee, and the strong case that it makes for increased leadership,
co-ordination and investment for support designed to tackle the problems that can undermine children’s life chances. The first 1,001 days are a vital period for children’s development – but, as the committee takes care to point out, the need for some children to receive additional and effective support doesn’t disappear when they turn three.

'Over recent months, we have seen two select committees making the case for increased co-ordination and investment in an early intervention approach to supporting children’s life chances. There is clearly mounting pressure on the Government to provide the leadership required at the national level, and the upcoming comprehensive spending review provides the ideal opportunity to recalibrate its approach. We need a 25-year plan for children, to put the issue of children’s wellbeing and livelihoods on the same policy footing as other crucial long-term issues like housing and the environment.'

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said, 'The importance of effective early intervention is no longer debated – but, as the Committee’s report shows, there is still a long way to go.

'We have been waiting long enough to see this consensus turn into action. The Integrated Review should have been implemented in 2015 but, four years later, is nowhere near being fully rolled out. Instead, we have a programme implemented in some areas and not others with cuts to the very services, such as children’s centres and health visitor training, that make early intervention possible.

'This report makes clear we’re a long way off seeing effective early intervention. That won’t change without a concentrated effort from ministers to ensure the Integrated Review becomes a reality for every young child. Without that effort, we will be stuck agreeing that early intervention is important, while some of those young children who need it most remain unable to access it.'

  • The Health and Social Care Committee's report on the first 1,000 days of life is available here
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