This isn’t a political manifesto, but a critically important matter, extremely dear to my heart, which will affect not only those born today and those who have just been born, but those who will be born in the future.
The Manifesto highlights the huge importance from when a baby is conceived until the age of two.
Research has confirmed and reinforced what we have known for a very long time – that from conception up to two years old is a critical time in a child’s development. What happens in those 1,001 days can set the course of a child’s life. Scans of a child’s brain highlights the development of the brain’s function – the evidence is startling and worrying but clear for all to see.
While a baby is in the womb there is a person growing and forming, it requires nourishing food and nurturing – all as important as after the baby is born. Sadly we see more children born with foetal alcoholism, drug addiction and other problems. It is the worst start for those babies, it damages the child’s life chances right from the start and sadly in most cases right the way through life. But that doesn’t have to be the case – which is why this Manifesto is so important.
Under the Manifesto we are promising more support and guidance to families and parents of infants. We want to look at things like improving support for mothers at risk of mental health issues, giving all parents access to ante-natal classes and ensuring services and organisations are working together to share data and information. This is not new to us, we are already working very closely with our health partners such as midwives. We all want a seamless service to support and help mums-to-be and parents, thus ensuring children have the best start in life.
Of course, we can’t achieve this on our own and I’m pleased to say that a number of organisations have already joined us and signed up to the manifesto including the maternity teams from Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, as well as Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust. Yet again an example of how much we can achieve by working together as organisations.
In our busy lives we often forget that the contact with our baby, whether a cuddle, holding a hand, playing or talking, are absolutely key to a child’s development – they cost nothing but have a huge impact on a child. Finding the time is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but such interaction is a vital part of a child’s development. Sadly some parents, because of a history of poor parenting, do not know how to interact with their child.
Our ambition is for every baby to receive sensitive, appropriate and responsive care, whilst ensuring parents feel confident they are raising their children in a loving and supportive environment.
I’m pleased to say that at the County Council our services and professionals already recognise the significance of help early on and we have been praised for our work. The Manifesto will add to this work by putting in place a secure foundation to build upon. I firmly believe this gives a really positive start to ensuring our residents are receiving the support they and their loved ones need for the best start in life.
We held the launch at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester and it was attended by a number of people including Tim Loughton, one of our local MPs. Tim is Co-Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Conception to Age 2 and is a very strong advocate of the Manifesto. It was Tim who first introduced it to me and asked me if it was something we would consider implementing at the County Council.
We are just the second council in the country to commit to a 1001 Critical Days Manifesto, following in the footsteps of Northampton County Council last year.
We know nationally that the cost of failing to deal adequately with perinatal mental health and child maltreatment has been estimated at £23 billion per year. Reports show this is largely avoidable and we need to do all we can to tackle the problem locally. Once again it highlights the importance of preventative work rather than reactive work and the impact this can have long-term.
In West Sussex we have approximately 9,000 births per year – we need to ensure each and every child, parent and carer has the support they need for those 1,001 critical days and beyond.
We’re asking all West Sussex based services and professionals who work with children in the 1,001 days age group to support the manifesto by signing the pledge – you can find out more on our website. You can also view a video from the launch.