Survey highlights gap in provision for babies and infant mental health

Babies and toddlers are often overlooked in mental health provision for children, according to a new report by Parent-Infant Foundation, which suggests that only half of CAMHS services accept referrals for children aged two and under.

Findings from an online workforce survey, carried out by the Parent-Infant Foundation for Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, highlight concerning gaps in provision in mental health services for babies and toddlers.  Only half of NHS children and young people’s mental health services take referrals for children two and under, according to the findings, which the foundation said confirmed that they often do not even cater for, or accept referrals for babies and toddlers – what it calls ‘a baby blindspot’.

The charity say that children and young people’s mental health should refer to the mental health of all children from 0-18 (or 0-25), but too often it is focussed on older children.  It warns that leaving young children unsupported could have serious consequences later in their lives and create more demand for mental health services in future. It is calling on everyone to adopt the language of ‘infant, children and young people’s mental health’. It is hoped that this change will help make an important shift in understanding, attitudes, policy and provision to consider and respond to the needs of the youngest children.

Key findings show that:

  • Only 9 per cent of respondents felt there was sufficient provision available for babies and toddlers whose mental health was ‘at risk’ in their area.
  • 36 per cent of respondents reported that, within children and young people’s mental health services in their area, there are mental health services that could work effectively with babies and toddlers aged from birth to two.
  • 52 per centof respondents said their local NHS children and young people’s mental health service took referrals for children aged two and under. Many of these respondents reported that, while this was the referral criteria on paper, in reality, the service was not working with young children.
  • As well as highlighting a gap in provision, the survey results also underline concerning disparities in training, understanding and confidence levels among professionals working in children and young people’s mental health services.

Just under a third (31 per cent) of mental health practitioners who took part in the survey felt that they didn’t understand infant mental health, rating their understanding as only 1 out of 5. As another respondent said, ‘It is very difficult to get people to recognise that infants and toddlers can have serious emotional difficulties.’ The survey was completed by 283 practitioners working in NHS infant, children and or young people’s mental health services (CAMHS) from a wide range of professions.

One of the Parent-Infant Foundation’s main aims is to raise awareness of the importance of infant mental health. The charity promotes a need to understand the first 1001 days from conception to age two, and how this stage is a period of rapid development where early experiences can affect not only babies’ emotional wellbeing, but also influence how their bodies and brains develop.

To ensure that all children across the UK can access appropriate mental health provision, if and when they need it, it is calling for:

  • Policy and investment from national Governments to increase provision of infant mental health services.
  • A drive within the NHS to hold commissioners and providers to account for offering mental health services for all children.
  • A workforce development strategy to ensure there are trained professionals with the specialised skills required to deliver these critical services.

Source Nursery World

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