Babies and children in England will get a better start in life, following the publication of a review into reducing inequalities in the first 1,001 days of life.

The Early Years Review – The best start for life: a vision for the 1,001 critical days – has been led by Early Years Health Adviser Andrea Leadsom MP and sets out a vision for best practice across the health system to ensure babies and children can get the best possible start.

Leading child health experts agree the care given during the 1,001 critical days has more influence on a child’s future than at any other time in their life, and experiences during this time have a significant impact on the health, wellbeing and opportunity of children throughout life.

However, children living in households in the lowest socio-economic groups have significantly worse health outcomes than other children. These can be caused by stress and smoking in pregnancy, as well as communication problems due to language inequalities.

In order to make sure families have all the information they need and to access their children’s data and easily share it with appropriate professionals, the government, working with NHSX and in consultation with parents, will bring forward work to digitise the personal child health record, commonly known as the ‘red book’. The red book contains babies’ details and information about their growth and development. Digitising it will ensure information is easier to store, protect it from being lost and make it easier to share with medical staff. This will apply to every new birth from April 2023, bringing it forward a year

The review highlights 6 action areas which are key to improving health outcomes in babies and young children:

  • seamless support for families: local authorities will be encouraged to publish a clear Start for Life offer for parents in their area – a single publication making parents and carers aware of what support they can expect in their local area, including services they should expect to receive like health visits, and localised and specialist services, such as help to quit smoking and intensive parenting support
  • a welcoming hub for families: this builds on the government’s commitment to champion family hubs, making them a place for families to access Start for Life services, such as childcare, early education and healthcare, as well as advice on jobs and training
  • the information families need when they need it: designing digital, virtual and telephone services around the needs of the family, including digitising the personal child health record, commonly known as the ‘red book’
  • an empowered Start for Life workforce: developing a modern skilled workforce to meet the changing needs of families with babies, looking at new ways to support and empower staff to increase retention of health visitors
  • continually improving the Start for Life offer: health services for families and babies must improve data, evaluation and outcomes to ensure they are meeting a family’s needs. Work will continue across the system to hold local services to account, including through proportionate inspections, giving parents and carers confidence and assurance that services are working in their area
  • leadership for change: work will begin to encourage local areas to nominate a leader and to ensure the delivery of the review is overseen at a national level

The press release in full and the report can be found on the government’s website here.

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