Today, the Government published the second set of four reports in a series looking at the pandemic’s continued impact on education recovery and how schools, prisons, early years providers and further education and skills providers are responding to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

TheEducation recovery in early years providers: spring 2022 report draws on inspection evidence gathered in the spring 2022 term and discussions with early years inspectors about the ongoing implications of the pandemic on children.

The pandemic has continued to affect young children’s communication and language development, with many providers noticing delays in speech and language. Others said babies have struggled to respond to basic facial expressions, which may be due to reduced social interaction during the pandemic.

The negative impact on children’s personal, social and emotional development has also continued, with many lacking confidence in group activities.

Children’s social and friendship-building skills have been affected. Some providers reported that toddlers and pre-schoolers needed more support with sharing and turn-taking. To address this, staff were providing as many opportunities as possible for children to mix with others and build confidence in social situations.

There continues to be an impact on children’s physical development, including delays in babies learning to crawl and walk. Some providers reported that children had regressed in their independence and self-care skills. As a result, several have increased the amount of time that children spend on physical activities, to develop gross motor skills.

An increasing number of providers were concerned that, compared with before the pandemic, fewer children have learned to use the toilet independently. This means that more children may not be ready for school by age 4. Providers were also concerned about obesity and dental health, so have focused on providing well-balanced meals and increased time for physical activity.

Alison Morton, iHV Executive Director said:

“Today’s report lays bare the far-reaching and largely overlooked impacts of the pandemic on babies, young children and their families. It is vital that this is taken seriously by policy makers with a COVID recovery plan and investment to address growing levels of need and vulnerability.

“We have a longstanding problem in this country with invisible vulnerable children who are not getting the support that they need, and the pandemic has made this situation worse. Therefore, it is vital that any enhanced package of support for ‘Covid recovery’ also includes investment in the universal safety net for our youngest citizens provided by the health visiting service.

“Babies, young children and families need joined up support – to achieve this we need more health visitors who are uniquely placed to reach all families, ideally preventing problems happening in the first place, but also who have a crucial role in identifying babies and young children with developmental delay and unrecognised disabilities that need early intervention and targeted support to achieve their full potential. I hope that this report will provide further impetus for much needed investment to turn the Best Start for Life Vision into a reality.”

Find details of the series of Ofsted reports here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/ofsted-education-recovery-series

 

 

The Institute of Health Visiting welcomes today’s launch of the findings from the Government’s Early Years Review – The Best Start for Life: A Vision for the 1,001 Critical Days.

The Review has been led by Early Years Health Adviser Andrea Leadsom MP and sets out a vision for best practice across the health system for the first 1,001 days of life. We are particularly encouraged by their clear statement of intent that babies and children in England will get a better start in life… with reducing inequalities.

Leading child health experts have provided evidence to the Review team (including members of the team at the Institute of Health Visiting, as well as health visitors in practice). Overwhelmingly, the evidence is clear that the care given during the first 1001 critical days has more influence on a child’s future than at any other time in their life.

Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP

The Chairman of the Early Years Healthy Development Review, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, said:

“When we started work on the Review, I was clear that the needs of the baby must be at the heart of everything we do. The coronavirus pandemic has put even more pressure on already struggling families and, just as we need to level up economic opportunity across the country, we need to level up the support and care for the very youngest.

“The 6 Action Areas will have a transformational impact on our society, and I am looking forward to the implementation phase of the Review where we will continue to work closely with families and the early years sector.  I am confident that delivering this Vision will help millions of families to give their baby the very best start for life.”

The review highlights six action areas which are key to improving health outcomes in babies and young children:

  • Seamless support for families: Local authorities will be encouraged to publish a clear Start for Life offer for parents in their area – a single publication making parents and carers aware of what support they can expect in their local area, including services they should expect to receive like health visits, and localised and specialist services, such as help to quit smoking and intensive parenting support.
  • A welcoming hub for families: This builds on the Government’s commitment to champion Family Hubs, making them a place for families to access Start for Life services, such as childcare, early education and healthcare, as well as advice on jobs and training.
  • The information families need when they need it: Designing digital, virtual and telephone services around the needs of the family, including digitising the Personal Child Health Record, commonly known as the ‘Red Book’. This will apply to every new birth from April 2023, bringing it forward a year.
  • An empowered Start for Life workforce: Developing a modern skilled workforce to meet the changing needs of families with babies. There will also be work to attract people into health visiting and ensure that health visitors are developed and supported.
  • Continually improving the Start for Life offer: Health services for families and babies must improve data, evaluation, and outcomes to ensure it is meeting a family’s needs. Work will continue across the system to hold local services to account, including through proportionate inspections, giving parents and carers confidence and assurance services are working in their area.
  • Leadership for change: Work will begin to encourage local areas to nominate a leader and to ensure the delivery of the review is overseen at a national level.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Founding Director iHV, commented:

“I am thrilled to see the launch of this very timely and important Review, and have been honoured to be an advisor to it.  Implementation of the Review’s Action Areas will offer every family greatly improved access to a range of sources of support, as and when they need them.  By being baby centric, it will also help to ensure that every baby can have access to the Best Start for Life.”

Alison Morton, Acting Executive Director  iHV, said:

“I welcome the clear commitment within this review to reduce inequalities and ensure that every baby achieves their full potential – this is an ambition shared by health visitors and lies at the core of our profession. I thank Andrea Leadsom MP and her team for setting out this important first step that provides a solid foundation on which to build the strategy and plan, with much-needed investment, that will be required to turn these ambitions into a reality. There is no time to waste, against a backdrop of increasing vulnerability facing many families, I look forward to working with the Review Team on the implementation phase.”

 

Today, The Duchess of Cambridge unveils the findings of the biggest ever UK study on the early years, in a milestone moment for her work on the importance of early childhood in shaping the rest of our lives and broader societal outcomes.

In January, Her Royal Highness asked the general public for their views – sparking a national conversation on the early years through the ‘5 Big Questions on the Under Fives’ survey which attracted over half a million responses, making it the biggest ever survey of its kind.

The research published today includes the findings of the ‘5 Big Questions’ survey as well as further qualitative and ethnographic research, a nationally representative survey conducted before the pandemic and a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on families.

Duchess of Cambridge at a briefing with Kelly Beaver (Managing Director of Public Affairs, Ipsos MORI) Credit: Kensington Palace

Taken together, these studies have generated 5 Big Insights:

  1. People overwhelmingly believe that a child’s future is not pre-determined at birth. However, most people don’t understand the specific importance of the early years. Answering the 5 Big Questions, 98% of people believe nurture is essential to lifelong outcomes, but just one in four recognise the specific importance of the first five years of a child’s life.
  2. The reality of life makes it hard for parents to prioritise their wellbeing. 90% of people see parental mental health and wellbeing as being critical to a child’s development, but in reality people do very little to prioritise themselves. Only 10% of parents mentioned taking the time to look after their own wellbeing when asked how they had prepared for the arrival of their baby. Worryingly, over a third of all parents (37%) expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have a negative impact on their long-term mental wellbeing.
  3. Feeling judged by others can make a bad situation worse. 70% of parents feel judged by others and among these parents, nearly half feel this negatively impacts their mental health.
  4. People have been separated from family and friends during the pandemic and at the same time parental loneliness has dramatically increased. Disturbingly, people are also less willing to seek help for how they’re feeling. Parental loneliness has dramatically increased during the pandemic from 38% before to 63% as parents have been cut off from friends and family. The increase in loneliness for parents is more apparent in the most deprived areas. These parents are more than twice as likely as those living in the least deprived areas to say they feel lonely often or always (13% compared with 5%). Compounding this, it seems there has been a rise in the proportion of parents who feel uncomfortable seeking help for how they are feeling from 18% before the pandemic to 34% during it.
  5. During the COVID-19 pandemic, support from local communities has substantially increased for many – but not for all.
    Across the UK, communities have united powerfully to meet the challenge of unprecedented times. 40% of parents feel that community support has grown. However, parents in the most deprived areas are less likely to have experienced this increased support (33%) than elsewhere.

These insights highlight the need to help people understand the importance of the early years and suggest that parents and carers need more support and advice to ensure good mental health and wellbeing as they raise young children.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said:

“The Institute of Health Visiting welcomes the results of these very significant UK surveys of the early years being unveiled today by The Duchess of Cambridge. These findings, and the resulting ‘5 Big Insights’, are extremely important and helpful in shining a light on this important period and why more needs to be done to support the parents of young children.

“What happens in the earliest years of a young child’s life provides something of a blueprint for their later health and wellbeing, and their capacity to thrive in the educational setting and adult life. Much of this research was completed pre the COVID-19 pandemic and, from the recent feedback of health visitors, we would expect the results to be even more stark now.  We call on the Government to respond to yet more evidence of why investment in the early years is wise investment and with the capacity to actually reduce the fiscal spend in the longer term.

“We look forward to working with the Royal Foundation and our Early Years partners to disseminate these new findings and the ‘5 Big Insights’ to those who have the power to drive positive change for young families.”

Duchess of Cambridge at a briefing with Kelly Beaver (Managing Director of Public Affairs, Ipsos MORI) Credit: Kensington Palace

 

 

The findings provide an unrivalled insight into public attitudes on the topic and as well as informing The Duchess’ work in this area, it will also be a vital source of information for the early years sector, helping to improve understanding of public perceptions of the importance of the early years, and the first-hand experiences of parents, families and carers.

Next year, The Duchess will announce ambitious plans to help elevate the importance of early childhood.

Follow the conversation on hashtag #5BigInsights

 

 

  • iHV joins a coalition of early years charities to warn government they’re at risk of failing a generation of babies born during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Joint Statement on the future of public health in England – giving every child the best start in life.

In a Joint Statement on the future of public health in England, the iHV, alongside nine expert early years charities, put their eight principles to Matt Hancock which must be considered when looking at health visiting. The organisations are urging Government to recognise there is a timely opportunity to rebuild the nation’s public health services for children and families.

The coalition of early years charities consists of Action for Children, the Association of Child Psychotherapists, Best Beginnings, First 1001 Days Movement, Home Start, OXPIP, the Institute of Health Visiting, NCB, NSPCC and the Parent-Infant Foundation.

NSPCC sent the Joint Statement together with an open letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, saying that England’s health visiting programme is not equipped to meet the challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic, and must be rebuilt according to eight principles developed by the group of early years experts.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director the Institute of Health Visiting, said:

“We are delighted to be part of this important coalition sharing our joint position on the need to return investment to the health visiting service so that it may fully play its part in ensuring that all parents have the support they need. Then, and only then, will every baby have the opportunity for the best possible start in life.”

The Pandemic has also seen restrictions to the service and redeployment of health visitors, which have resulted in many families not receiving their entitled health visits. According to the Babies in Lockdown report, produced by Best Beginnings, Home Start UK and Parent-Infant Foundation, just 1 in 10 parents with children under two saw a health visitor face-to-face during the pandemic.

The organisations have long warned Government about the history of cuts to public health funding and the significant decline in NHS health visitors, which meant the service struggled to support families across the country even before the pandemic.

The letter, backed by over 2,000 members of the public, highlights that the restructure of Public Health England must prioritise giving every child a fair start in life.

Led by health visitors, all families in England are entitled to receive five check-ins from qualified health visitors via the Healthy Child Programme. However, NSPCC research with over 2,000 mothers in England, conducted with YouGov prior to the pandemic, found only 6% had been supported by the same health professional throughout the perinatal period. One in four mothers had reviews conducted via letter, text message, or a phone call instead of in-person support.

Whilst Public Health England recently announced that health visitors should not be redeployed over the winter, research by UCL found that in some areas of England, as many as 50% of staff were redeployed during the first phase of the pandemic.

Since April, the NSPCC’s helpline has received 1,897 contacts from adults concerned about parental mental health, with over half being referred for further support. The monthly average number of contacts post-lockdown has increased by over a third (34%) when compared to the average for January to March.

Dr Adams commented:

“Over the past five years we have seen an average 30% reduction in the number of health visitors in England, accompanied by a massive variation in these losses across the country. The average health visitor caseload is now 500 children, double the recommended number.

“The number of invisible vulnerable babies will have increased and perinatal mental illness is already reported by health visitors to be ‘sky rocketing’.

“The whole population will also be paying the price – the erosion of the health visitor role results in kicking the can down the road where the impact is picked up by other much more costly services. We urge the Government to listen to the voices of parents, charities and health professionals now and take urgent action to reinstate a robust health visiting service before even more damage is done.”

The NSPCC is inviting people to join the thousands who have already raised their voice and signed the Fight for a Fair Start petition.

 

The Early Years healthy development questionnaire has been extended by one week to help capture a wide range of responses. The new closing date is 11:59pm on Friday 23 October.

The Prime Minister has asked Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP to lead a new review into improving health and development outcomes of babies and young children in England. The time from conception to the age of 2 is a critical time for development and can impact physical health, mental health and opportunity throughout life.

They’d like to hear from recent parents, including those who gave birth during the lockdown and public health response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, about the experiences of care and services you received.

They’d also like to hear from health service professionals, charities, volunteer groups and academics.

They will use your views to check where progress has been made and where more needs to be done in the future both locally and nationally.

The questionnaire has been extended by one week to help capture a wide range of responses. The new closing date is 11:59pm on Friday 23 October.

The Prime Minister has asked Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP to lead a new review into improving health and development outcomes of babies and young children in England. The time from conception to the age of 2 is a critical time for development and can impact physical health, mental health and opportunity throughout life.

The consultation would like to hear from recent parents, including those who gave birth during the lockdown, and public health response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, about the experiences of care and services you received.

They’d also like to hear from health service professionals, charities, volunteer groups and academics.

Your views can help to shape the outcome of the review – please use this opportunity and share to others to respond too.

The closing date for responses is 11:59pm on Friday 16 October 2020.

The Children’s Commissioner for England has published a report looking at the provision of early years services for children across the country, alongside a warning that many nurseries are at risk of closure, hitting the life chances of some of the most vulnerable children and holding back the economic recovery following lockdown.

The report, ‘Best Beginnings’, is an in-depth examination of early years provision in England. It describes a system that is disjointed and often failing to target those disadvantaged children with development problems who most need early help.

It comes amid a recent warning from childcare providers that one in four nurseries and pre-schools fear closure within the year, rising to one in three in the most disadvantaged areas, as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director iHV, commented: 

“Best beginnings is a powerful and very well researched report from Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner and her team. It recommends a strengthened holistic, cross-government approach to ensuring that every infant is supported to meet its full potential, whether through strengthened community services, including health visiting, or a strengthened childcare/nursery offer.

“I particularly liked the starting point: There are certain things that every baby needs as the foundations for a healthy, happy life:

  1. Loving, nurturing relationships with parents and carers
  2. A safe home free from stress and adversity
  3. The right help to develop good language and other cognitive skills
  4. Support to manage behaviour and regulate their emotions
  5. Good physical and mental health and access to healthcare”

“Helping parents achieve this for their infants is the essence of health visiting.”

The report shows the need for an overhaul of the early years system in England. It details how too many children, particularly those growing up in disadvantaged families, are already behind by the time they start formal education. Last year, 29% of five- year-olds in England were not at the expected level of development by the time they started school, including 45% of children receiving Free School Meals. In Middlesbrough, 38% of children are not achieving the expected level of development aged 5, while in Dudley and Sandwell it is 35% of children.

The report sets out how starting school behind can undermine children’s life chances. The Commissioner’s office analysed data on all children in England who had not met the expected level on half of their early learning goals at age 5 and tracked them through to the end of primary school. These children were:

  • five times as likely to end up being excluded by age 10
  • twice as likely to have had contact with children’s social care by age 11
  • three times more likely to be struggling with reading at age 11
  • four times more likely to be struggling with writing at age 11.

Recent research also shows these children are more likely to leave school with no GCSEs, more likely to suffer some form of mental ill health and more likely to be obese.

The Children’s Commissioner is calling for a new ‘Best Beginnings’ early years investment plan, ranging from Children and Family hubs to midwives and health visitors, to tackle these problems at the beginning of a child’s life rather than waiting until crises develop in later years. While some foundations of an excellent early years service are already in place, the Children’s Commissioner is urging the Government to bring together and turbocharge these services into one system which provides first class provision that works for families and ensures that all children, including the most disadvantaged, get the best possible start in life.

The Children’s Commissioner makes a number of recommendations including:

  • An emergency recovery package for the childcare providers whose finances have been worst affected by Covid-19. Government should also reconsider the design of Universal Credit which makes it hard for lower earning families to get help with childcare, as parents have to pay costs upfront and then wait to be repaid.
  • An expanded offer of 30 hours free childcare and early education for all children aged two, three and four, and 15 free hours for all one-year-olds, so that early years education is seen as part of ordinary life, in the same way that school is.
  • A cross-government ‘Best Beginnings’ strategy led by a Cabinet Minister for the Early Years. This would set out how a revitalised and extended Healthy Child Programme, the Early Years Foundation Stage, Children and Family Hubs, antenatal services and the Troubled Families Programme would work together.
  • A Family Guarantee of support for under-fives and their families delivered by health visitors, early help and Troubled Families workers, family nurses or family support workers based in Family Hubs.
  • A national infrastructure of Children and Family Hubs. These would be a centre point of support for children and families and act as a gateway to multiple services. Each hub would be a base for universal services so that every child is reached.
  • A Government review of early education and childcare funding to ensure it is working as effectively as possible to help children and families who need it most.
  • A single system for supporting families with early years education and childcare, with fees charged in relation to families’ incomes as they are in Sweden and Norway.
  • A national workforce strategy for the early years, focusing on staffing across existing health, local government and early years settings.
  • Better sharing of data between different services, so children who need help do not fall through the gaps or go unidentified. This should include more effective use of a child’s NHS number and Unique Pupil Number so it is possible to match children in different databases.

iHV is delighted to join over 140 organisations in a call to all political parties to put children and young people at the heart of this General Election.

Our open letter calls on all political leaders to set out their solutions to the pressing issues facing children and young people, including child poverty, mental health, domestic abuse and serious youth violence.

You can show your support on social media using the hashtag #ChildrenAtTheHeart

Children and young people are joining our call and raising their voices on social media, using the hashtag #IfIWerePM to share their priorities for the next Government.

United for better early years

Today, iHV is also a partner in a second letter calling for Party Leaders to take meaningful action to improve perinatal and early years support. These first 1,001 days are so critical to a child’s development – a better childhood starts right here.

 

Yesterday there was a debate in Parliament on the First 1001 Critcal Days – the motion relating to the Inter-Ministerial Group on Early Years Family Support, opened by Andrea Leadsom MP.

We are delighted that health visiting got mentioned on a number of occasions. The work of the iHV and Cheryll got a particular mention by Tim Loughton (and a well deserved hear-hear for her tireless work to promote all the work that health visitors do- starting at 17:10:30 ) – with Tim also quoting from our statement.

Prior to the debate, iHV sent a position statement and briefing paper to several Ministers and MPs providing information and background on the services that health visitors are able to offer, and that have seriously disintegrated since 2015 and are now at tipping point – affecting the lives of generations of children.

 

Following the collation of evidence for their Evidence-based early-years intervention inquiry , the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has published their report and is calling on the Government to draw up a new national strategy for early intervention approaches to address childhood adversity and trauma.

The Evidence-based early years intervention Report urges the Government to capitalise fully on the opportunity that early intervention provides to transform the lives of those who suffer adversity in childhood, while also saving long-term costs to Government.

This is a very important and hugely interesting report which includes the call for secure funding for early interventions and also cites the Institute in one of the recommendations:

Recommendation 9.

The Healthy Child Programme is the only mechanism in place through which all children in England should receive early years practitioner support before the age of five. Its coverage is therefore critical for identifying ACEs and other child development issues early. The Government should review the current provision of the
Healthy Child Programme across England and set out, as part of the new national strategy, a date for achieving complete coverage in the number of children who receive all five mandated health visits. Given existing workforce pressures, the Government must ensure that this required increase in coverage does not negatively impact the quality of health visits. It should consult the Institute of Health Visiting on how this can be managed, and be ready to recruit additional health visitors as required.
(Paragraph 54)

The Committee’s Report identifies examples of early intervention working well around the country, but also the challenges that local authorities and their partners currently face in delivering effective, evidence-based early intervention. It concludes that the overall provision of early intervention in England is fragmented, with varying levels of support, focus on evidence, and success.

The Committee calls for a new national strategy to be drawn up to ensure that the opportunity provided by early intervention—to transform lives and save long-term costs to Government—is seized fully, and by all local authorities in England.