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1001 Critical Days manifesto

The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families welcomes cross-party manifesto that highlights the importance of acting early to enhance the outcomes for children.

Members of Parliament from across eight different parties have thrown their weight behind the re-launch of a key policy commitment to achieving better perinatal mental health and stronger attachment between babies and their parents right from the start. The ‘1001 Critical Days Manifesto’ was originally launched in the last Parliament to persuade all political parties to incorporate these measures into their election manifestos. It was 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.

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.

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, 2 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.

In a report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group for 1001 Critical Days published earlier in the year, entitled ‘Building Great Britons’ the group identified the cost of poor perinatal mental health and child neglect as more than £23bn a year let alone the social cost that ensues.

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.

All Party Group Chairman Tim Loughton MP commented:

"The Government have done a good job of dealing with the problems of dysfunctional families through the Troubled Families Programme but what we need is a ‘pre-Troubles Families Programme’ which deals with the causes of poor attachment and the resulting diminished life chances that flow from. It really is false economy not to be dealing with this earlier and I am glad that ministers are at last waking up to the fact that this is a problem which can be dealt with at relatively modest cost if we have a coherent programme that can get stuck in early.

"The benefits to babies and parents are immense and our society as a whole will be greatly enriched if we can get such a programme engrained into the mind-set of how we do our public health and children’s social care across Government nationally and locally."

Tessa Baradon, Head of Infancy and Early Years Services at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, said:

"The baby’s earliest relationship with his parents/caregivers are the most significant he is likely to have and are likely to be formative of his personality, health, friendships, work patters over the course of his life. The 1001 manifesto is trying to get the message across to all those who directly work with infants and their families as well as those who create policies that affect families with babies. The Anna Freud Centre strongly supports the 1001 Critical Days Initiative. We have a long tradition of innovative work in early child development and bring this to the joint effort on behalf of our babies, parents and society."