29th September 2021
In support of the #TurnOffTheTaps #InvestInHealthVisiting campaign, we are delighted to publish a Voices blog today, written by Dr Peter Green, Chair of The National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Safeguarding.
Hampshire County Council’s recent consultation on its public health budget has intensified the ongoing discussion on the important safeguarding functions of health visiting services. The child and family support system had already suffered enough from post-crash austerity. The management of the pandemic, during which the needs of children, in contrast to the needs of adults, were treated with scant regard, has only served to make matters worse. Consequently, health visitor numbers have been sliding and workforce morale is poor.
This cannot continue. The current campaign to fight cuts to health visitor services is key to reversing a decline in child safeguarding effectiveness. Health visitors, by spotting children and families in difficult situations, are vital to child and family wellbeing. They form core relationships with families without which our most vulnerable babies, children and young people would remain invisible to services, without the support that they need, and add to the tragedy of isolation and neglect that is the ongoing experience of so many. This is manifest in unprecedented levels of childhood mental illness, eating disorders and serious incidents that include deliberate self-harm and death. Babies and young children are otherwise invisible and silent. And whilst many parents have the agency to reach out and ask for help when they are struggling, many don’t. Picture the 19-year-old first-time single mother, who is developing postnatal depression and is both frightened and detached from family and friends. Or the young father who is plagued by difficult emotions in the face of a crying baby and tired partner. It is not only babies and infants who have no understanding of their situation nor a direct line to public services.
It is vital that the inquisitive approach of health visitors is maintained and enlarged to determine not only a baby’s state of nutrition and physical health, the safety of their environment, and an appreciation of the emotional support and wellbeing that they are receiving, but also the needs of the oft-times tired and stressed parents whose own needs must be met if they are to fulfil their own determination to be the best version of a the parents that they long to be.
Without early expert eyes gazing upon them regularly, adverse factors for the parenting environment will not be seen. And it is utterly pointless to pretend that virtual or telephone consultations come anywhere near good enough to develop trust and mutual respect. All the evidence is warning that this will make health visitor assessments less accurate. And the perception of those in need of help, in response to telephone only “visits”, will be “you can’t be bothered”.
This situation is reversible but needs political will. This is not an area where costs should be contained but rather expanded. As we start to move out of the pandemic, babies’ needs should now be prioritised in the manner that those of adults were during the pandemic. Health visitor service decline should not be allowed any longer, and the welfare of babies, children and young people should be put at the centre of a regeneration of all services for children and young people.
As the taps are turned off, so the money should start to flow.
Dr Peter Green , Chair of The National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Safeguarding
Calling all health visitors:
We invite you to find your inner warrior and share your stories on social media. How have you made a difference to babies, children and families? Support the #TurnOffTheTaps campaign and raise the profile of health visiting so every baby can get the best start in life. Together we are stronger. #InvestInHealthVisiting