Dr Andrew Mayers (psychologist at Bournemouth University, and national perinatal mental health campaigner and educator) welcomes cross-party manifesto that highlights the importance of acting early to enhance the outcomes for children.
Members of Parliament from across eight different parties have thrown their weight behind the relaunch of a key policy commitment to achieving better perinatal mental health and stronger attachment between babies and their parents right from the start. The ‘1001 Critical Days Manifesto’ was originally launched in the last Parliament to persuade all political parties to incorporate these measures into their election manifestos. It was spearheaded by Northamptonshire South MP Andrea Leadsom who originally set up a Parliamentary All Party Group to raise the profile of these crucial early years’ issues and is now Minister of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Now a record number of MPs from all sides of the House have put their names in support and are pressing ministers to adopt it as Government policy across a number of departments led by Health. The main sponsors include former Children’s Minister and Conservative MP Tim Loughton, Shadow Children’s Minister and Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, former Minister for Mental Health Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb and representatives from the SNP, Plaid, SDLP, DUP and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
The 1001 Critical Days Manifesto takes its title from the period from conception to age 2 when a baby’s brain is developing fastest and he or she is most susceptible to forming strong bonds of attachment with a primary carer, which will have a lasting impact and certainly set a child up for the best start in life, in school and into adulthood if we get it right.
Many of the social problems seen in society today have resulted from poor parenting skills often as a result of a parent having had bad experiences as a baby and creating a generational downward spiral. The goal is for every baby to receive sensitive, appropriate and responsive care from their main caregivers in the first years of life with more proactive help from the NHS, health visitors, 2 children’s centres and other public bodies engaged in a joined-up preventative strategy to affect great change, as pregnancy and the birth of a baby is a critical window of opportunity.
In a report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group for 1001 Critical Days published earlier in the year, entitled ‘Building Great Britons’ the group identified the cost of poor perinatal mental health and child neglect as more than £23bn a year let alone the social cost that ensues.
The new manifesto draws attention to a variety of concerning statistics, not least that around 26% of babies (198,000) in the UK are estimated to be living within complex family situation, of heightened risk where there are problems such as substance misuse, mental illness or domestic violence, whilst 36% of serious case reviews involve a baby under the age of one. The best chance to turn this around is during the 1001 critical days.
All Party Group Chairman Tim Loughton MP commented: “The Government have done a good job of dealing with the problems of dysfunctional families through the Troubled Families Programme but what we need is a ‘pre-Troubles Families Programme’ which deals with the causes of poor attachment and the resulting diminished life chances that flow from. It really is false economy not to be dealing with this earlier and I am glad that ministers are at last waking up to the fact that this is a problem which can be dealt with at relatively modest cost if we have a coherent programme that can get stuck in early.
“The benefits to babies and parents are immense and our society as a whole will be greatly enriched if we can get such a programme engrained into the mind-set of how we do our public health and children’s social care across Government nationally and locally.”
Dr Jacque Gerrard, Director England, The Royal College of Midwives, said: “The RCM welcome the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto Relaunch in Parliament. The work is key in contributing to the need for improved support for infants and babies during the first 1001 days. By identifying a baby`s need as early as possible in life and by developing interventions a baby`s development can be improved and long term health and mental well-being outcomes enhanced. The RCM look forward to contributing to the ongoing work to this important initiative.”
“The Institute of Health Visiting is delighted to endorse the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto. As far as health visitors are concerned, the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto may yet prove to be one of the most important developments of the new millennium. It has created a long overdue focus on the essential first days of life when the blue print for an individual’s future health and wellbeing is laid down. Hence this period also determines the future health of our society.
If we are to manage many of society’s physical, social and emotional health challenges, efficiently and effectively health visitors know that we must start in the first 1001 critical days of life. The fact that government now knows that too will drive health improvements in our society”.
Dr Cheryl Adams, Director of the Institute of Health Visiting. 3 Education, health and economic leaders across the globe now recognise the great gains for any society willing to invest into early childhood development. Key recommendations from the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto build a scaffolding of support for babies, who are our future. Clair Rees – Executive Director, Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK Dr Judy Shakespeare, Royal College of General Practitioner’s Clinical Champion for Perinatal Mental Health, said “The first 1001 days of a child’s life, from conception to age two, is a window of opportunity to impact on health outcomes throughout the lifespan. GPs, as experts in delivering holistic care to patients from the beginning to the end of life, and gatekeepers to physical and mental health services across the NHS, play an important role in giving every baby the best possible start in life. This manifesto offers a universal and seamless pathway to support GPs and out teams to do this effectively.”
“The baby’s earliest relationship with his parents/caregivers are the most significant he is likely to have and are likely to be formative of his personality, health, friendships, work patters over the course of his life. The 1001 manifesto is trying to get the message across to all those who directly work with infants and their families as well as those who create policies that affect families with babies. The Anna Freud Centre strongly supports the 1001 Critical Days Initiative. We have a long tradition of innovative work in early child development and bring this to the joint effort on behalf of our babies, parents and society.” Tessa Baradon