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1001 Critical Days manifesto relaunched in Parliament

Report shows that women's mental health is central to children's health

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

Members of Parliament from across eight different parties have put their continued support behind policy that shows that the first 1001 days of a child's life from conception to age 2 are vital to achieving better perinatal mental health and stronger attachment between babies and their parents.

The ‘1001 Critical Days’ all-party parliamentary group is chaired by Tim Loughton MP and has released an updated manifesto incorporating results of an inquiry earlier this year into optimising health during pregnancy and the early years entitled ‘Building Great Britons’.

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.

Originally launched in the last Parliament to persuade all political parties to incorporate these measures into their election manifestos, the study was initially spearheaded by Northamptonshire South MP Andrea Leadsom who originally set up a Parliamentary All Party Group to raise the profile of these crucial early years’ issues and is now Minister of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Now a record number of MPs from all sides of the House have put their names in support and are pressing ministers to adopt it as Government policy across a number of departments led by Health. The main sponsors include former Children’s Minister and Conservative MP Tim Loughton, Shadow Children’s Minister and Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, former Minister for Mental Health Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb and representatives from the SNP, Plaid, SDLP, DUP and Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Speaking about the report, Professor Susan Ayers from City University London, said: "When the manifesto and Building Great Britons reports first came out they were long-overdue, so it is excellent to see members of Parliament from across the house support such vital work. 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 1001 Critical Days Manifesto takes its title from the period from conception to age 2 when a baby’s brain is developing fastest and he or she is most susceptible to forming strong bonds of attachment with a primary carer, which will have a lasting impact and certainly set a child up for the best start in life, in school and into adulthood if we get it right.

Speaking about the report, Paul Burstow, Professor of Health and Social Care at City University London, said: "The evidence is compelling. The right support for parents before, during and after birth can make all the difference. The dividends of early support are not just paid out once they can benefit generations."

Many of the social problems seen in society today have resulted from poor parenting skills often as a result of a parent having had bad experiences as a baby and creating a generational downward spiral. The goal is for every baby to receive sensitive, appropriate and responsive care from their main caregivers in the first years of life with more proactive help from the NHS, health visitors, children’s centres and other public bodies engaged in a joined-up preventative strategy to affect great change, as pregnancy and the birth of a baby is a critical window of opportunity.

The new manifesto draws attention to a variety of concerning statistics, not least that around 26% of babies (198,000) in the UK are estimated to be living within complex family situation, of heighted risk where there are problems such as substance misuse, mental illness or domestic violence, whilst 36% of serious case reviews involve a baby under the age of one. The best chance to turn this around is during the 1001 critical days.

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