Government review: babies and children to get better start 

A Government review into inequalities in children’s first 1,001 days has led to an action plan to improve their health outcomes in England.

The early years review – ‘The best start for life: a vision for the 1,001 critical days’ – has been led by Early Years Health Adviser Andrea Leadsom MP and sets out a vision for best practice to ensure babies and children can get the best possible start.

Leading child health experts agree the care given during the 1,001 critical days has more influence on a child’s future than at any other time in their life, and experiences during this time have a significant impact on the health, wellbeing and opportunity of children throughout life.

However, children living in households in the lowest socio-economic groups have significantly worse health outcomes than other children. These can be caused by stress and smoking in pregnancy, as well as communication problems due to language inequalities.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said: “This is a vital review for early childhood as we know a child’s earliest years are a crucial stage of development that determines their chances later in life. Families have struggled during the past twelve months with babies born during the pandemic and some young children spending most or all of their lives living under lockdown conditions.  

“The impact this will have on Covid babies in terms of attachment and socialisation with other children is of great concern, especially where they have not had the usual social contact with their wider families and other children.  High quality early education and care is important for all children to gain the skills for the future and lifelong learning.

“As we look to any Covid recovery plan for children’s development and education, it is clear that early years has to be a priority and a key area for support. 

“With over a million children in nurseries and pre-schools across the country, it’s important that investment is made to enable high quality care is deliverable in a sustainable way. This will ensure that every child in the nursery community gets the best start in life.

“The Government could take this opportunity to provide additional investment in children’s early years and develop a family-centred system. To level up opportunity and address inequalities we need to see more support for families and providers in less advantaged areas who are being hit hard by chronic underfunding and the impact of Covid-19.”

Six action areas which are key to improving health outcomes in babies and young children are:
seamless support for families: local authorities will be encouraged to publish a clear Start for Life offer for parents in their area 
a welcoming hub for families: this builds on the government’s commitment to champion family hubs, making them a place for families to access Start for Life services, such as childcare, early education and healthcare, as well as advice on jobs and training
the information families need when they need it: designing digital, virtual and telephone services around the needs of the family, including digitising the personal child health record: the ‘red book’
an empowered Start for Life workforce: developing a modern skilled workforce to meet the changing needs of families with babies, looking at new ways to support and empower staff to increase retention of health visitors
continually improving the Start for Life offer: health services for families and babies must improve data, evaluation and outcomes to ensure they are meeting a family’s needs. 
leadership for change: work will begin to encourage local areas to nominate a leader and to ensure the delivery of the review is overseen at a national level

The Chair of the Early Years Healthy Development Review, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, said: “Ensuring that every baby gets the best start for life has been my passion for more than 20 years, and I was delighted when the Prime Minister asked me to chair the Early Years Healthy Development Review last year.

“When we started work on the review, I was clear that the needs of the baby must be at the heart of everything we do. The coronavirus pandemic has put even more pressure on already-struggling families and, just as we need to level up economic opportunity across the country, we need to level up the support and care for the very youngest.

“The 6 action areas will have a transformational impact on our society, and I am looking forward to the implementation phase of the review where we will continue to work closely with families and the early years sector. I am confident that delivering this vision will help millions of families to give their baby the very best start for life.

“This vision sets out an ambitious programme of work to transform the support for families. Work to implement it will begin in the coming months. The goal is to ensure the best support throughout those 1,001 critical days, setting babies up to maximise their potential for lifelong emotional and physical wellbeing.”