There is a huge body of research that confirms that children flourish when they feel secure, when they are responded to sensitively, when they are talked with, and encouraged to develop their skills and explore their environment. The early months of life, from conception to age three, are when the infant brain is developing at its most rapid and when attuned sensitive care is particularly important.
The damaging effects of severe neglect on brain development is well documented but what is less well understood is the long term impact of inappropriate, inconsistent, and disorganised care. It is well known that a secure primary attachment is the single most important protective factor for future physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing so why does government not invest in this key relationship?
Statistics about the well being of young people in the UK are shocking:
- rates of depression and anxiety amongst young people increased by 70% in the in the past 25 years
- 1 in 10 suicides in the UK are in the 15 to 24 age group
- 18% of 1.5 month old children have emotional difficulties
- 1 in 10 children in the UK have some form of mental health problem
- 1 in 5 children in Reception Year in UK schools is overweight or obese
This evidence suggests that too many children are not receiving the consistent loving care they need in that all important period of development, conception to age three.
Politicians across all political parties seem to share a concern about these worrying statistics yet they seem reluctant to make a step change to implement a coordinated, long-term, preventative strategy across government that values the consistent, loving care of young children. It is estimated that 40% of all of the current spending on public services is accounted for by interventions that could have been avoided if a preventative approach were adopted.
This is not to suggest that raising children is the role of government. The care of babies and very young children is primarily the responsibility and task of parents but this ‘work’ needs support and recognition from policy makers. Currently, responsible parents with mortgages and rent to pay, except those who are extremely rich, have no choice but to place their children in an inadequately funded and increasingly expensive day-care system which is struggling to provide the high quality one-to-one responsive loving care babies and young children need for optimum brain development and emotional wellbeing.
There would be far better long-term impact on children’s life chances if funding, currently being proposed for 30 hours of free child care, was given directly to parents, providing them genuine choice to do what, in surveys, they have said they would prefer: to care for their own children in the early years.