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First 1001 days for children as important as national defence, says report

The first 1001 days of life from conception to age 2 are as important as the defence of the UK

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

The first 1001 days of a child's life from conception to age 2 are so important they should be elevated to the same level as the defence of the UK, according to a new All Party Parliamentary Group report released today.

The study, entitled 'Conception to Age 2: First 1001 Days', also says that particular emphasis needs to placed on fostering mental/emotional wellbeing, secure parental attachment and preventing child maltreatment as without intervention there will be another generation of disadvantage, inequality, and dysfunction. 

Chaired by Tim Loughton MP and including Susan Ayers, Professor of Maternal and Child Health at City University London on the committee, the report aims to help provide support to enable parents to create children who at the end of their first 1001 days have the social and emotional resources that form a strong foundation for good citizenship. 

The cost of failing to deal adequately with perinatal mental health and child maltreatment - both closely linked and more importantly largely avoidable - has been estimated at £23billion each year. This is equivalent of more than two thirds of the annual Defence Budget going on a problem that is widespread and when unchecked passes from one poorly parented generation to the next. 

As a result, the report says that tackling it should be no less a priority for our politicians and our health and social care professionals than national defence as, without change, the economic cost of these cycles of deprivation is enormous.

Speaking about the report, Professor Susan Ayers said: "This report is long-overdue. The evidence that pregnancy and the first two years of life are critical in a child's development and long-term health is substantial. To ensure the best start in life and good physical and mental health of future generations we need to support women during pregnancy and birth, and support families during the first two years of a child's life. 

"The report shows that women's mental health is central to children's health and puts forward a number of recommendations that, if implemented, will reduce perinatal mental health problems and the transmission of vulnerability from one generation to the next."

The report also recommends that local authorities, Community Commissioning Groups and Health & Wellbeing Boards prioritise all factors leading to the development of socially and emotionally capable children, by adopting and implementing a '1001-days' strategy, and showing how they intend to implement it in collaboration with their partner agencies, within 5 years. 

Children's centres should become a central source of support for families in the early years, according to recommendations in the report, with access to multi-agency teams and multiple on-site services including health visiting, GP services, housing, finance, parenting classes, birth registration, library and other community services.

Research evidence and good local area data are also needed to ensure effective changes are implemented to services. Where data and evidence are not available, these should be prioritised and supported with appropriate funding.

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