This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Herald editions and Petersfield Post:
"1001 days – that’s the time from conception to a child’s second birthday.
We’ve long used the terms ‘ante-natal’ and ‘post-natal’ but more and more the word is ‘peri-natal’ – meaning the combined both before and after birth.
It is across this time that so much of what will affect baby’s development takes place – for their health, wellbeing and eventual opportunity throughout life. And it is also right across this time that there is a lot of strain for many families and greater incidence of mental health issues.
By the 1,001st day, a baby’s brain has reached 80% of its adult weight, and brain connections are being made at a phenomenal rate. The very earliest experiences that shape a baby’s brain development will have impact on that baby’s mental and emotional health into adult life.
It is almost a decade since I worked with MPs and Peers from across the parties on a report called ‘Seven Key Truths About Social Mobility’. Our first finding was that “The point of greatest leverage for social mobility is what happens between ages 0 and 3.”
The key components have long been known by researchers. There are clear negative factors including domestic abuse and drug or alcohol abuse in the family.
But beyond an absence of these huge negatives, there is also a known set of positive factors, including things like diet and the ‘home learning environment’. Most of all it comes down to closeness, and a happy home.
This is overwhelmingly about the private sphere. But help and support – and advice if sought – can be highly valuable, and valued.
When I was at the Department for Education I was pleased to be able to introduce a new programme focused on supporting parents with early literacy development, a set of simple, fun activities for children, from newborn to five. (Search online for ‘Hungry Little Minds’).
Now the government has published the Early Years Healthy Development Review Report, outlining a vision on how to support the best start for life. Begun in September 2020, the review reflects the particular challenges faced by families during the pandemic, but also builds on the wealth of knowledge and research that already existed.
One of the noticeable changes will the ‘red book’ coming of age. It will be digitised for new births from April 2023, to help ensure that key information is protected but also shared more easily with medical staff. That is one in a set of ‘digitisation’ changes.
Local authorities will be encouraged to publish a Start for Life offer for parents and carers in their area – a single publication making them aware of the support they can expect, such as health visits, support to quit smoking or intensive parenting support packages.
Family hubs will be further developed, where families can access Start for Life services, such as childcare, early education and healthcare, as well as advice on jobs and training.
It is vital that this comes alongside the availability of mental health support, and I am pleased to see the continued growing emphasis on this.
Implementing the Early Years Healthy Development plan successfully will take time and resources, and can be built on further. The ambition is there to make a real difference, at a point when it will make the most difference for individuals, families and for society as a whole."