The importance of intervening early in the lives of children, young people and families is widely recognised. Indeed, in my previous role as Children’s Minster and now as the Co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Conception to Age 2: first 1001 days, I have been repeatedly convinced that early intervention brings the greatest rewards for the individual and society.
As Sally Davies (Chief Medical Officer, England) stated in the foreword of the Critical Days Manifesto: 'Those who suffer multiple adverse childhood events achieve less educationally, earn less, and are less healthy, making it more likely that the cycle of harm is perpetuated, in the following generation'.
What we know is that that the brain grows most in the first years and that warm nurturing environments and secure attachments are vital for later development. Yet it is estimated that 26 per cent of babies have complex families and in 2011 more than 1,000 babies were on child protection plans before they were even born. The first years of a child's life are therefore absolutely crucial.
Ensuring that parents have the best possible support and professional help is key. It is imperative that when it is needed, public resource is used as it has the potential to make a huge difference.
Putting this approach at the heart of what Government does and most importantly across all party divides, has the potential to be life-changing - literally - which makes the work of this APPG so important. This does not mean that the APPG does not recognise that intervention and public resource is needed at other stages in the child’s journey to adulthood; it does. However, the economic debate is well proven that if you invest appropriately in all areas of the early years - health, early learning and social care - the child and society reap the rewards.
The call for evidence by the APPG to support a cross-party approach has drawn on research and involved professionals from health, social care and the early education and care sector. The evidence given regardless of background has stressed the huge impact on the child if society fails to take up its responsibility to provide them with an optimal start.
The report launched today (25 February) highlights the cost of failing to deal adequately with perinatal mental health and child maltreatment and has been estimated at £23 billion each year. 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 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.
However, achieving this is not going to be easy, it will require cross-party support and recognition that change will take generations. It will also require a rethink about how policy can be embedded that negates political change and puts the child and their family at the heart.
Moreover, it will need the vast array of professionals who work in the early years to ensure they are trained appropriately and work in partnership with parents to provide the best possible start for their children.
We therefore urge you to join the debate and pledge your support to scoping a different future for our youngest children that crosses political lines. Together we can make a difference.
To find out more and become a supporter please visit:
Leadsom, A., Field, F., Burstow, P. and Lucas C. (2013) The 1001 Critical Days: the Importance of Conception to the Age of Two Period.
Available from: http://www.1001criticaldays.co.uk/the_manifesto.php
APPG Conception to Age 2 report can be found on http://www.1001criticaldays.co.uk/news_list.php?cat=parliament