MPs of all parties call for early action

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Conception to Age Two has just published its latest report on the need for early action to give children the best start in life. 

The APPG, which sub-titles itself ‘The First 1001 Days’, took as its starting point the principle that our emotional, mental and psychological foundations are laid before birth and within the first two years of life.

At the root of our social and emotional resilience, that is our ability to build healthy relationships and deal with setbacks, are our attachments to care-givers in early life. This can be disrupted by a range of factors, such as a parent’s own childhood trauma, a mother suffering post-natal depression, violence in the home or dealing with the challenges of mental ill health.

From the dramatic to the mundane, these difficulties could be experienced by any of us. The insidious problem is that they can be self-perpetuating. Children with poor attachments are more likely to grow up risk-takers, experience physical and mental ill health themselves, under-achieve at school, abuse drugs or alcohol, or end up in the criminal justice system. Crucially, they are also more likely to have trouble forming attachments to their own children, who are then more likely to grow up experiencing similar problems.

The result of this cycle is that the inequality and disadvantage created by ill health, low educational attainment or poor relationships can end up being ‘passed down’ through generations. Not genetically or inherently, but because the lives of adults have such a dramatic effect on the development of their children.

The London School of Economics estimated the cost of failing to deal adequately with mental health, just before and after birth, and child maltreatment at £23 billion a year.

We understand the link between early childhood attachment and adult experiences better than ever before. The question is ‘what are we going to do about it?’

The APPG offers recommendations in the report for political parties, the NHS, government agencies, local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Health and Wellbeing Boards. You can read them here

The key to success lies in each and every one of those bodies making a commitment to early action. By making smart investments in support and intervention services now, we will all reap the rewards – both social and economic. The All Party Group is hoping for a society in which we are all “physically and mentally healthy, well educated, empathic, prosocial, hardworking and contributing to the costs”.

Whatever your ideal world looks like, there is now far too much evidence to suggest that anything other than early action makes social or financial sense.

Kate Mulley is Director of Policy & Campaigns at Action for Children and was a member of the Advisory Committee for the APPG for Conception to Age Two: The First 1001 Days inquiry.

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