The Government must kick-start an Early Years Revolution to improve support and services for children, parents and families, says the Health and Social Care Committee, in a new report on the first 1000 days of life.

The first 1000 days of life, from conception to age 2, is a critical phase during which the foundations of a child’s development are laid, with more than a million new brain connections made every second.

If a child’s body and brain develop well then their chances of a healthy life are improved. Exposure to adversity during this period can have lifelong consequences.

Commenting on the report Aaron Bradbury (M.Ed. PGCE. NPQICL, SFHEA), Senior Curriculum Leader (Early Years and Education), School of Education, Health and Community, University College Birmingham, said:

We must ensure that children within the early years have the opportunity to embrace child centred outcomes to achieve a fulfilled life. The Early Years Revolution had already happened when Children’s Centres were born and the positive outcomes these were having through an approach of targeting children and families most at need.

These centres were at the forefront of pre natal, social mobility, family support, poverty divisions and social inequality, and one that needs bringing back to support the growing need for young children’s development and positive life chances.

The Committee are highlighting a cause for concern with the growing need to re-invest in mental health, children’s development and family support.

The report is highlighting the intervention needed but we must address fundamental inequalities for our children to be able to flourish, nurture and develop resilience within an ever changing societal context.

Funding for children’s services has been cut by a third since 2010 and points to various regions which have seen the biggest drops.

A DfE Spokesperson said:

We are investing in Britain’s future by providing local authorities with access to £91.5b over the next two years to meet the needs of residents. Over the next five years, there will also be £84m of extra funding to support local authorities to invest in initiatives that improve social work practice and decision making to help children stay at home safely with their families, where it is in their best interests.

The local government settlement for 2019-20 sees a core spending power increase from £45.1b in 2018-19 to £46.4b in 2019-20. This year’s settlement includes extra funding for local services and support vulnerable groups.

Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi said:

We want every child to have the best start in life, with the opportunities and the stability to fulfil their potential, which is why we have made £200 billion available to councils up to 2020 for local services including those for children and young people.

The government announced £84 million in evidence-based interventions which will help to reduce demand, saving money for local authorities, as well as providing a further £270 million for councils to develop improvements in their services.

The number of local children’s services rated outstanding is growing, and the number rated inadequate has dropped by a third since 2017 – from 30 down to 19. By 2022, I want this reduced to fewer than 10 per cent of councils, and we are on track to meet this.

A study in The Lancet in 2017 found that people who experienced at least four adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) were more likely to get heart disease, cancer and many mental health problems than those with no experience of ACEs. They were also thirty times more likely to have attempted suicide.

The Committee is asking the Government to produce a long-term, cross-Government strategy for the first 1000 days of life, setting demanding goals to reduce adverse childhood experiences, improve school readiness and reduce infant mortality and child poverty. This should be led by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, with the support of a small centralised delivery team. 

The Committee then wants all local authorities to develop plans - with the local NHS, communities and the voluntary sector - to implement this strategy, bringing improved support for children, parents and families in their area. Funds should be pooled to deliver shared, agreed actions.

Dr Paul Williams MP (practising GP and father), who led the Committee for this inquiry, says:

There is a crisis in children’s mental health in this country. But all we are seeing are cuts to health visiting, children’s centre closures and increasing child poverty. Government must now show inspiring leadership to help children get the best possible start in life.

If our country is serious about prevention and reducing health inequalities then we must make massive investments and drive coordinated action right at the start of life.

The report also calls for the Government’s Healthy Child Programme to be revised, improved and given greater impetus. The Committee recommends that the programme should be expanded to focus on the health of the whole family, begin before conception, deliver a greater continuity of care for children, parents and families during this period and extend visits beyond age 2½ years.

Under the current programme, all families are entitled to 5 visits from health visiting services up to age 2½ years. The Committee recommends that an extra visit should be introduced at age 3-3½ years to check children are on course to achieve the level of development deemed necessary to start school.

Some children, parents and families need extra, more intensive, support if their child’s development is off track. The Committee recommend the Government should develop a programme which children and parents in need of targeted support can access, building on the Flying Start programme in Wales and the Family Nurse Partnership in Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of England.

The Government must use the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2019 to shift public expenditure towards intervening earlier rather than later and thereby secure long-term investment in prevention and early intervention to support parents, children and families.

Dr Paul Williams MP says:

Quite simply, I want this country to be the most supportive and caring place in the world that a child could be born into.

The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University estimate that more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. 

The systematic review in The Lancet found that individuals with four or more ACEs had an odds ratio of 30.14 for suicide attempts (confidence interval of 14·73–61·67). This was the strongest association of all the outcomes covered in The Lancet review, although suicide attempts are a rare outcome compared to the other outcomes included in the study (e.g. smoking) and are less well covered by population surveys. The odds ratio of 30.14 is based on three studies one of which only included students. When this study was removed the odds ratio fell to 12.53.

Committee Membership is as follows: Dr Sarah Wollaston (Independent) (Totnes) (Chair), Luciana Berger (Independent) (Liverpool Wavertree), Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw (Lab) (Exeter), Rosie Cooper (Lab) (West Lancashire), Diana Johnson (Lab) (Kingston upon Hull North), Johnny Mercer (Con) (Plymouth, Moor View), Andrew Selous (Con) (South West Bedfordshire), Derek Thomas (Con) (St Ives), Martin Vickers (Con) (Cleethorpes), Dr Philippa Whitford (SNP) (Central Ayrshire), Dr Paul Williams (Lab) (Stockton South).   

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