The MP and Leader of the House of Commons told the joint APPG for Children and Conception to Age 2, chaired by MP Tim Loughton, that she would report fully on the inter-ministerial group’s findings and recommendations at the next meeting in June.
At the meeting on Monday (29 April) she gave an interim update as chair of the cross-Government group set up last July to look at family support in the first 1001 days, from conception to age two.
The inter-ministerial group aims to identify gaps in available provision and make recommendations on how co-ordination across departments can be improved and explore what more the Government can do to ensure they act early in a child’s life.
It will then ask the Treasury for increased funding to support early help in the early years in the spending review, which takes place in the autumn.
Ms Leadsom was asked by the Prime Minister last summer to chair the cross-Government inter-ministerial group on family support from conception to age two.
She said that ‘getting families off to the best start in life is my passion in politics’, telling the audience that she has been involved for 20 years in parent psychotherapy.
The group comprises junior ministers from the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education, Local Government and the Treasury,
Ms Leadsom said she would report back at the next APPG in June on the results of the findings and what the group will be doing, saying there was ‘an enormous amount of careful thought and research’ that had gone into the group’s work.
After a meeting a few weeks ago with the group, she said that the ministers were now ‘sending letters to the secretaries of state in their departments for agreement for the proposed changes that we want to make and from there that will go to Cabinet.
‘I intend to present to Cabinet on some of our proposals, so I hope that in the not too distant future, I will be able to present publicly what we intend to do as a result of this inter-ministerial group.’
Ms Leadsom said, ‘We’re trying to look across different Whitehall departments to try and ensure that we are looking at what is best practice, what’s missing, what’s the postcode lottery, what are we doing that we can expand on, what aren’t we doing that we should be doing, and so on. So I make no apology that it’s taken a bit of time. We’ve done a massive amount of work.’
The MP said she had taken part in a practitioners’ advisory panel and academics’ advisory panel, looking at research and what people are doing on the ground, ‘from the families’ point of view, the user,’at joined-up services.
Ms Leadsom said, ’One of the challenges in the perinatal period [is that], if you’re looking to move house and you have a four-year-old you know you need a good school, but if you’re looking to move house and you’re expecting a baby you might not know what services you need, and that’s something we’ve been looking at, how accessible [are services].
‘That’s been one of the angles that we’ve come at this. Depending on what your expectations are you may have no idea what your needs will be, or a really good idea but no way of finding out what’s available in the area.’
Ms Leadsom talked about visits she had made with the group, including to Lambeth Family Action Hub, which provides a conception to school-age service to families, with some interventions all the way through, including midwifery checks, teaching English as a foreign language, dealing with substance misuse, parental conflict reduction programme, and support with breastfeeding.
She has also been to Manchester with Labour MP Lucy Powell, looking at some of the best practice in Sure Start in Manchester, including an antenatal programme right through to school age, with different levels of intervention.
At a Family Action round table event in North London, Ms Leadsom met some families 'having real problems with domestic violence, insecure housing and debt problems.'
The group has also held a roundtable with civil servants, a Mumsnet evaluation asking parents what they think is good and what they would like to see, which had provided some good information and visited the National Childbirth Trust in Peterborough, a bumps and beyond drop-in service for families, which supports families in deprived areas and where some parents experience social isolation.
Ms Leadsom said, 'We’ve had a huge amount of input as to what works for parents, as to what parents would like to see, a massive amount of work within departments, [looked at] postcode lotteries, what services should be universal and aren’t, what we could expand on, what we could do differently, what we could do in the next phase of the Troubled Families programme, what more the Department for Education could do in practice in delivery, for example, children’s centres.
‘Next week I’m going to Devon to see how you can provide services in a very rural area, where perhaps it’s not convenient for people to drive 70 miles to a children’s centre, or an antenatal class. You need those services to be much more locally available.’
Asked whether the group was considering the the role of health visitors and how that can be strengthened to support families in need, she said yes, the group was looking at that, how ‘health visitors can be your scouts [and] provide signposting’ to services for families.
One audience member asked about whether the group was looking at educating all parents, 'a population approach' to parenting, ‘telling parents what they need to know’, not just looking at services.
In response, Ms Leadsom said, ‘This is very much about helping parents to be better parents, so when I talk about services it is precisely with a view of helping parents to understand the concept of five to thrive, the importance of speaking to your baby, and the importance of early attachment. The whole of this perinatal service provision will be directed at improving the capacity of parents.’
The next meeting of the joint APPG for Children and the APPG for Conception to Age 2 - the First 1001 Days, will take place on 10 June.