‘A stitch in time saves nine’ is a brilliant proverb because it is reminds us of the power of timely action. Unfortunately, the plan announced by Theresa May, calling for all new teachers to be trained to spot early warning signs of mental illness and for NHS staff to be encouraged to take suicide prevention training, calls to mind another and more long standing English proverb – ‘Closing the door after the horse has bolted’; in other words, ‘don’t waste time taking precautions when the damage has already been done’
Rather than expecting teachers to take on even more responsibility, government should recognise the importance of stable family life to children’s emotional wellbeing and enable families to provide the consistent loving care babies need to prevent avoidable harm.
Children’s Centres, intended to be a local resource, bringing together early childhood services into the heart of the community, offering a wide range of services for all children up to the age of five and their families have been closing at an ever-increasing rate. They should be properly funded and reinstated. (http:www.whataboutthechildren.org.uk/blog)
Support for Parent-infant services specialising in infant attachment and the relationship between the parents and child must be available to all families. Currently, in 200 Clinical Commissioning Boards (CCG) in England there are only 27 parent-infant specialist teams (https://www.pipuk.org.uk)
While improving the range and availability of mental health services is needed, it really is time that national policy focused on prevention. There is a raft of research that explains why prevention needs to be rooted in the critical period of development from conception to age three. Research confirms that early life experiences shape a human’s mental, emotional and physical health for life – quite out of proportion to the later years of childhood. Ensuring consistent, responsive and attuned care and positive attachment relationships during this period of rapid brain development is key to preventing many of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that are the causes of poor mental health. Being responded to appropriately, being cuddled, being soothed, talked to and played with are all key building blocks for healthy brain development and most effective when provided by parents within a stable family home environment.
GPs, Midwives Health Visitors, Teachers and all those working with children and young people need to know about the importance of secure parent/infant attachment and understand the latest science on infant brain development. Young people need to have the opportunity to consider the responsibilities and demands of family life and how they will provide their children with the consistent loving care they need, well before they have a family. Parents are vital to children’s mental health and they must be supported and encouraged through the tax and benefit system, to have time for their important work of caring for their babies
The importance of early intervention to enhance outcomes for children was highlighted in the Cross Party Manifesto ‘The 1001 Critical Days’, when the Chief Medical Officer, in her endorsement of the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto, said that, ‘as our understanding of the science of development improves, it becomes clearer and clearer how the events that happen to children and babies lead to structural changes that have life-long ramifications. Science is helping us to understand how love and nurture by caring parents is hard wired into the brains of children’ (https://www.1001criticaldays.co.uk)
Rather than piecemeal initiatives, it is time for government to prioritise the emotional needs of babies and prevent avoidable harm.