The prime minister has commissioned Early Years Health Adviser Andrea Leadsom to head a new review into improving health outcomes of babies and young children.
The first 1,000 days of childhood are critical for development, and have a significant impact on physical health, mental health and opportunity 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.
The review aims to reduce inequalities in young children from birth to age two-and-a-half, to ensure every baby is given the best possible start in life.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “All parents aspire to provide their children with the best possible start in life and this government is committed to ensuring that no child is left behind.
“Everybody should have a solid foundation on which to build their health and this review will look to reduce the barriers and improve early childhood experiences.
“We are determined to level up the opportunities for children, no matter where they come from or grow up,” he added.
The review will explore how to reduce disparities in low birth weight, social and emotional development in early years, and reduce impacts of vulnerability and adverse childhood experiences in this stage of life.
One in five mothers and one in 10 fathers experience mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth, according to research from NHS England. Pregnancy can often trigger domestic abuse, with between 15% and 30% of domestic violence cases starting during this period.
Understanding lessons learned from COVID-19, including minimising the risks from the pandemic to very young children, and better use of technology, the government will work with academics, health professionals and experts to identify policies and services that will improve the outcomes for vulnerable babies, children and their families.
Early Years Health Adviser Andrea Leadsom MP said: “Ensuring that every baby has the best start in life is my passion in politics and I am delighted to be asked by the Prime Minister to chair a review of early-years services on behalf of the government.
“Infant mental health is about more than babies. It’s about improving our whole lives and striving for better outcomes that have a profound effect from cradle to grave,” she added.
Andrea Leadsom MP will be engaging with a wide range of stakeholders including independent academic experts, maternity and children’s specialists, leading commissioners, service providers and professionals, and parliamentarians.
Building on conclusions from the Inter-Ministerial Group on Early Years Family Support, Ms Leadsom MP is expected to submit her findings and policy recommendations from the first phase of the Review into Early Years Health in January 2021. This will contribute to the government’s vision for excellence in early-years health.
Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “Most babies are born healthy and enjoy a safe and nurturing childhood. We know the first 1,000 days of a child’s life is critical, providing a solid foundation as children for growth and development throughout their lives.
“However, some do not have the same advantages. We want to remove barriers so that all babies and young children are supported and nurtured to be ready for school and ready for life.
“This review will help ensure every child has an opportunity to thrive, regardless of their background and achieve their potential. We look forward to receiving Andrea Leadsom MP’s recommendations,” she concluded.