We know that babies’ and toddlers’ experiences in early childhood will have a profound impact on the rest of their life. Yet, unfortunately, this stage of a child’s life can often be overlooked and under-supported in policy and service delivery.
In the UK, up to one in five mums and one in 10 dads experience mental health problems in the period during pregnancy and a baby’s first birthday. And we know that without the right support at the right time, these issues can have serious immediate and long-term consequences for both young children and families.
The last 12 months have been particularly hard on new parents, with social distancing measures resulting in many fathers and partners having been excluded from screenings and many women giving birth alone.
All of this has had an unprecedented impact on pregnancy, childbirth and the start of a child’s life. And restricted access to services has resulted in mental health problems in pregnancy and the first year going under the radar of professionals, making it harder for parents to provide the care a baby needs to develop.
The Scottish Government has made significant investment in perinatal mental health in recent years to support mums and dads. And we welcome this. But we must also not lose sight of the baby.
Our research shows that before the pandemic hit, there were very few services across Scotland that specifically addressed the emotional and developmental needs of infants or children under the age of two. This is despite significant evidence about the vital importance of the early years, and strong political commitment to prevention.
It is vital to scope out the level of need among young children and families and then ensure that sufficient community and specialist services are available across Scotland to support very young children’s social and emotional development. All babies and their families are entitled to a continuum of support, when and as they need it.
Last month at our flagship How Safe 2021 event, the largest gathering of safeguarding professionals in the UK since lockdown began, we championed the role of health visitors. They are in a prime position to reach families at this important early stage, to build trust and to spot any adult and infant mental health concerns. Their vital work must be supported by a network of specialist services which can work to support and enhance the parent-baby relationship which is so fundamental to a baby’s wellbeing.
With the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) recently incorporated into Scots law, which places the rights of all children, including babies, on a statutory footing, it is vital we radically transform early childhood in Scotland – a challenge we urge the new government to fully embrace.
Our Fight for a Fair Start campaign is calling on the public to back its petition urging the next Scottish Government to invest heavily in early childhood. Search ‘Fight for a Fair Start’ to sign the petition.
Any adult worried about a child can contact 0808 800 5000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.