The coronavirus crisis has underlined the need to invest in children’s early years, the Prime Minister has said, as the Government published plans to ensures babies get the best start in life.
Personalised child health records will be digitised and local authorities will be encouraged to publish what support is available to families under proposals in the Government’s review into early years care.
The Best Start For Life: A Vision For The 1,001 Critical Days details six areas that could improve young children’s health development.
These include support for families being well publicised by local authorities, a hub where parents can access services and advice, and developing a skilled workforce to help meet the needs of families with babies.
In addition, the personal child health record, known as the Red Book, will be digitised for every child born from April 2023, to protect it against loss and make it easier for medical staff to share information.
Boris Johnson visited a nursery in west London on Thursday, and said the infants there were “Covid babies”.
“They have been born in lockdown, they are almost a year old, some of them just over a year old,” he said.
“The things they will experience now, the amount of love, affection, contact, neural stimulation… that they get, that will make a huge difference to their life chances.
“We as a Government totally understand that, that’s why we want to make these changes now, these investments, and push forward the whole Start for Life agenda.”
Review chairwoman Andrea Leadsom said the plan would “transform things for all families”.
The Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What families will see differently is they will receive a joined-up Start for Life offer, which will show them explicitly what services they can get to support them in the period from conception to the age of two.
“Really radical is (the move to), at long last, digitise the commonly known Red Book, which every family gets, and that for professionals and families will make a huge difference.
“For families, they won’t have to keep telling their story again and again; for professionals, they will be able to see what’s happened to that family to provide them with the support that they need.
“So it’s going to really transform things for all families… and help us to identify families who, without that support, would go on to have real difficulties parenting with their new babies.”
The review was welcomed by Action For Children, which said that “for too long, the youngest children have been overlooked in government’s policy and funding decisions”.
The charity’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain, said “lifeline services” such as children’s centres “are being hamstrung by funding cuts and a lack of prioritisation within government decision-making”.
He added: “Investing in services which step in early to support families should be a core part of the ‘levelling-up’ agenda.
“It would be irresponsible to have an NHS offering only A&E departments but no primary care or public health services, yet this is the short-sightedness we’re facing in children’s services.
“A system geared only for crisis guarantees more children will end up in crisis.”