9th December 2019
A guest blog by Alana Ryan, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the NSPCC, on their new ‘Fight for a Fair Start’ campaign.
In July, the NSPCC launched our new policy influencing campaign, Fight for a Fair Start, aimed at ensuring parents across the UK can access the mental health support they need during pregnancy and after birth, in order to give their baby the best start in life.
We know that across the UK, mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth are very common, with up to one in five mums and one in ten dads likely to experience conditions such as anxiety or depression.
Access to timely mental health support is therefore vital – not only for parental wellbeing, but also for ensuring healthy child development. If undetected and unsupported, perinatal mental health problems can affect a mum or a dad’s ability to provide the responsive and sensitive support necessary for scaffolding their child and, in the most severe cases, mental health problems carry a risk of child abuse or neglect.
Given the impact mental health problems can have on parent-child interactions, we want to ensure that there is support in place for families across the whole of the perinatal pathway. This means excellent universal services that can detect early signs of mental health needs and, in cases where a mum or dad has more acute needs, ensuring there is high-quality specialist support available, too.
We believe health visitors delivering the Healthy Child Programme are uniquely well-placed to recognise early signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties – but with a rapid decline in staff numbers and rising child caseloads, we also know this universal service is under significant pressure.
It’s clear that staff are doing their very best despite the difficult conditions, but with a 31% workforce decline in NHS health visitors since 2015, there are simply too few health visitors to deliver the high-quality consistent care that families need to thrive. This is tough on staff and families alike.
These reductions mean that nationally the offer is variable, with some areas, such as London, simply not able to provide all families with the consistency of care they should be receiving. In these parts of the country, mums or dads who are struggling with anxiety or depression are less visible, and as such, less likely to get the support they need for their own recovery, as well as that extra help with fostering those crucial parent-infant interactions.
That’s why we are championing the Healthy Child Programme and calling on the next Government to develop a fully-funded workforce development plan and ensure that local areas have sufficient funding to deliver a high-quality service which is sustainable.
We are asking supporters in England to sign a petition to support our calls. The petition will be live over the next few months and our plan is to deliver the petition to 10 Downing Street for national action, but also to meet with local leaders to illustrate the demand for change in each area.
We have received great support from the Institute of Health Visiting and the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, and we are now hoping to get the message out to frontline staff. So please spread the word to your colleagues and join us in the fight for a fair start in your local area: www.nspcc.org.uk/fair-start