Improving the life chances of children under five is the key to reducing inequality in later life, a major report into child poverty says.
NCT welcomes the report by MP Frank Field, ‘The Foundation Years – preventing poor children from becoming poor adults’. Mr Field said he was urging the government to adopt a new approach in its fight against child poverty, focusing on improving parenting skills and increasing early-years support for families. For many children from disadvantaged backgrounds, Mr Field's report concludes, by the time they start school ‘life's race is by then already effectively over’.
Mr Field is calling for a new set of indicators to be devised help measure a child's physical, emotional and cognitive development at the age of three and five.He is also urging reform of the network of Sure Start childrens' centres, of which there are 3,500 in the UK, as part of increased focus on childrens' "foundation years".
Commenting on the report, Belinda Phipps, Chief Executive of NCT said:
"Frank Field's report really gets to the heart of the problem where so many parents bring up their children in poverty in the UK, without the support they need, and NCT supports his recommendations wholeheartedly. It has been clear for years that offering parents the right sort of help in pregnancy, and through to the early years, will make a major difference to their child's life outcomes.
Parents want the best for their baby– many of the recommendations in this report, if adopted by the Government, would not only help many to feel supported and become more confident parents but could make a real difference to their child’s future.
We are pleased the report has accepted many of the recommendations NCT made both in the formal response to the consultation and in our meeting with Frank Field MP and his officials.
As the UK's largest parenting charity supporting men and women from early pregnancy right through to the early years, and providing helplines, support and education for parents in the community including children's centres, we believe the findings of the report form a firm basis for supporting parents. It is a real turning point.
This report will help create a fairer society and a better foundation for all for children. We congratulate the Government on commissioning this report and look forward to working with them in implementing its recommendations for the benefit of all families."
NCT agrees with the review’s findings that children’s life chances are most heavily predicated on their development in pregnancy and the first two, and to some extent the first five, years of life and agree that how well supported parents are, and how able they are to be effective parents, are determining factors in whether children realise their full potential in adult life.
The crucial importance of enabling a woman to have a healthy pregnancy by making sure she is able to eat a well balanced diet that provides the calories, micronutrients, vitamins and Omega 3 fish oils she needs has been recognised.
Women also need sufficient vitamin D levels. The need to ensure good maternal mental health particularly for the woman but also her partner is supported by NCT. NCT is also pleased to see the recognition of the need for strong attachment between the parents and with their baby, in the first months, can lead to better outcomes for the child.
We are pleased the review recognised that breastfeeding not only leads to a baby having a better immune system but helps better health, and also helps the quality of interactions between parents and child later and therefore is an essential consideration in any measure to reduce health and social inequalities in children.
The majority of mothers want to breastfeed and as yet society is not able to provide the support they need to start and sustain it for as long as they wish. In our own evidence we said that improving support for breastfeeding has to be key as there are many correlates associated with breastfeeding, such as later weaning, lower rates of obesity, higher IQ, lower risks of infection and life long conditions such as diabetes.
Parents-to-be should receive antenatal education on breastfeeding, proactive feeding support in the early days after their baby is born and, thereafter, access to appropriately trained people to provide support when they need it.
The review is right to identify the fact that babies brain development continues after their birth. Brain development is highly influenced by the care babies and young children receive and yet little attention is paid to making sure parents know this and how to have a positive impact on their child’s brain development.
We support the overarching recommendations of the report. How well we support parents is obvious in the results we see in children. We can measure our progress on how well we close the inequality gap in our children.
We strongly support the recommendation that Governments both nationally and locally give greatest support and pay most attention to the earliest years in life starting from pregnancy and that funding moves to give more support in those early years. We also agree the funding should be aimed at high quality support for parents as they are the crucial providers of care for the developing baby and child during pregnancy and in the early years. Funding needs be targeted to enable parents to come to terms with their new role and develop their own effective way of parenting their child.
We agree that the Department for Education should ensure that parenting and life skills are reflected in the school curriculum. NCT believes it is crucial every child understands that pregnancy builds the body and brain of their child, that birth is a challenging but normal process which needs support from a midwife but most often needs little or no medical intervention. It is also important to undo the cultural expectation of what being a parent is like and make sure everyone understands what a demanding, consuming, long term job it is which brings stress and risk if you are unprepared, but can bring great joy for those who are ready to take it on.
We welcome the idea of using Sure Start Children Centres as a ‘hub’ for support and activity for both parents from pregnancy onwards. We share the vision that all parents should have antenatal preparation education and preparation for parenthood as well as support as they adjust to being a parent and work through how they are going to manage this challenging role successfully. NCT welcomes the opportunity of a role there along with midwives and health visitors. All should work closely with Centres and ensure a consistency of service is provided, and a holistic approach is taken to this important transition to being a mum or a dad and feeling confident in your role.