A campaign to put babies on an equal footing to school children in the Government’s Covid catch-up programme has been launched by The First 1001 Days Movement. The coalition of 200 children’s charities, including Action for Children, Home-Start UK, the Institute for Health Visiting and the Parent-Infant Foundation, is calling on the Government to give babies an equal route out of the pandemic by extending the Covid catch-up funding to younger children.

The Government has announced a £1.7bn fund to support school children, but there has been no support earmarked for babies. Matching the amount given per school-aged child would deliver £117m for the 600,000 babies born in England since the first lockdown began, which is £191 per baby, the First 1001 Days Movement said.

To raise awareness of the harms suffered to ‘invisible’ babies during the pandemic, the campaign is calling on grandparents, carers, sisters and brothers across the UK to share their babies’ ‘missed moments’ in the #WhatAboutUs campaign.

Sally Hogg, head of policy and campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation and co-ordinator of the First 1001 Days Movement, said, “It is critical that the youngest children are not forgotten in the Covid recovery efforts. The Government must extend their support to include all children, not just those attending school or preschool. We welcome the £1.7bn, but yet again, there has been a baby blindspot. The earliest years of life are the most rapid stage of brain development, which lay the foundation for future health and wellbeing. It is critical that babies and families who have suffered as a result of the pandemic are identified and given the support they need as quickly as possible.”

Research has found a ‘Baby blindspot’ in the Government’s Covid-19 response.

Many, of the 600,000 babies born in England since the first lockdown,  have been exposed to high levels of stress, particularly when parents are overloaded with financial worries, or have experienced domestic abuse or mental health problems. Many families with young children are missing out on vital support, as their struggles have gone under the radar of professionals due to shortages in services, exacerbated by lockdown restrictions. It is these, often ‘invisible’ babies, in families with multiple risk factors that are most at risk.

Local authorities reported more than 100 serious incidents of injury and death involving babies under one between April and October 2020. This was up by 50 per cent on the previous six months. Of all the serious incidents involving children in that period, 36 percent were babies under one, according to Ofsted.

In research with practitioners who work for babies, 98 percent reported that babies they work with were affected by parental anxiety, stress and depression which was making it harder for parents to provide their babies with the sensitive, responsive care which is so vital for early development.

Vicky Nevin, senior policy and public affairs officer at the NSPCC, said, ‘We are deeply concerned that the pandemic has made pregnancy and infancy tougher for families this year, while also reducing their access to vital support services. This means an increased risk of mental health problems in pregnancy and the child’s first year going under the radar of professionals, making it harder for parents to get the help they need.

‘The Government must deliver a recovery plan that includes parents and babies, addresses the decline in health visitors and rebuilds the healthy child programme so all parents and babies get the support they need for a fair start in life.’

Catch-up funding for babies would pay for interventions such as targeted support from health visitors, specialist services and charities, to help babies and families recover from the harms caused by the pandemic.

The First 1001 Days Movement said that this money should be used to enable additional contact with families with young babies, to meet the backlog in health visiting and GP appointments that have been missed and to enable public services and charities to reach out to understand families’ needs, identify risks and issues and offer support.

Strong evidence shows higher early years development spending leads to improved later life earnings, particularly for pupils from poorer backgrounds. The same impact delivered by £1 in early years costs £7 if you wait to intervene in adolescence.

Follow the campaign on social media at #WhatAboutUs

Source Nursery World

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