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Long Term Impact

The rationale

It is now clear that the early months of life are the critical period at which a child’s brain is ‘mapped on’ to its environment.  Social risk factors and, it may well be, genetic risk factors can be ‘switched off’ by consistent and interactive care and communication at this stage of life.  If babies are not partners in an intense engagement with close caregivers during this time, a unique chance to improve the quality of their future life is lost.  The consequences for the individual in later life are likely to be serious and at a minimum will damage their chances of developing resilience. Such individuals are also likely to be among those who cause greatest concern to those around them and, perhaps, to society.

Over the last decade, there has been a huge growth in the provision of childcare for children under four, including babies as young as three months and sometimes from just after birth. At the same time, there is great pressure upon parents to return to the workplace or training and place their babies and young children in the care of early years practitioners in childcare settings.

The challenge

All political parties are agreed on the desirability of support for the early months of a child’s life.  But such commitments fall well short of the improvement in life chances we seek for babies, whatever family, class, wealth, health or geographical situation they are born into. Of course, some provision is in place in the UK. But often:

  • midwifery services are over stretched
  • one health visitor has to support many families
  • professionals working with this age group have little training in infant mental health
  • only the most serious mental health problems such as psychosis are provided for

Cultural, economic and social factors

Child-rearing practices in any civilisation are culturally based, but powerfully driven by economic pressures. In the UK, economic pressures on care-givers are likely to increase over the next few years.

In the UK, the growing presence of women has benefited every sort of workforce.  We have no wish to put the clock back. 

We contend, rather, that while encouraging mothers to work, politicians have:

  • ignored the gap this can leave in ‘the team around the child’ at a very young age
  • in particular, have neglected the policy drivers that can support the presence of fathers and other significant carers to fill the gap.