In a new survey of UK-wide professionals and volunteers:
- 30% say health visitor drop-in clinics are no longer operating in their area.
- 28% say health visitor appointments are still remote via telephone or online in their area.
- 12% say baby and toddler groups are no longer running in their area.
Parents are still struggling to access essential services to help them through pregnancy and beyond, with problems including accessing face to face medical care, reduced access to health visitors and a lack of community parent and baby groups – all of which are taking a toll on parents’ mental health, a new report, called “No One Wants To See My Baby”, released today shows. [i]
The report’s authors, the Parent-Infant Foundation, Home-Start UK and Best Beginnings, urge the Government to take decisive action to help families with young children recover from the pandemic, after research suggests many services are not operating as families need. For example, 30% of professionals and volunteers across the UK said health visitor drop-in clinics are no longer operating in their area.
The three charities are now making a three-step recovery plan plea for babies and children.
One mum said: “We’ve not seen anyone. We had a zoom call at the 12 month [health visitor] check-up. Of all my friends, I was the only one that actually got a video call, which was shocking. They didn’t even get a phone call.”
More than a quarter (28%) of professionals and volunteers surveyed for the report, say that health visiting routine checks remain mainly on the phone or online, which can limit opportunities to keep babies safe.
The three charities are not the first to raise concerns about the ongoing use of remote consultations with parents. Academics, children’s charities, doctors and politicians have all raised concerns about remote delivery, pointing out that a baby’s development and wellbeing cannot be adequately assessed unless they are seen face-to-face. This is particularly true for vulnerable babies.
No-one Wants To See My Baby has been published to coincide with a backbench debate called ‘Giving Every Baby The Best Start in Life‘ taking place in the House of Commons on Tuesday 9 November and is designed to give a voice to babies and toddlers to ensure the Government takes their specific needs into consideration.
“No-one Wants To See My Baby” is a follow up to the 2020, “Babies in Lockdown” report from the Parent Infant Foundation, Home-Start UK and Best Beginnings. Both show that COVID-19 and the measures introduced to control it are still having an impact on babies, their families and the services that support them and exacerbating underlying inequalities.
Their findings have prompted a call for three actions towards recovery. The Government must:
- Invest in health visiting services.
- Take a cautious, evidence-based approach to remote and phone-based service delivery.
- Ensure babies, and services supporting them, are at the heart of COVID-19 recovery policy and investment.
Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Communications of Parent Infant Foundation, one of the report authors, said: “We remain very concerned about the development of young children exposed to the greatest adversity during the pandemic. In the 15 months since our initial research was published, we have seen increasing evidence of the concerning impact of COVID 19 on the most vulnerable children. If services remain remote, many of these babies are invisible and their needs go unaddressed.”
Alison Baum, Chief Executive, of Best Beginnings, said: “The evidence is unequivocal; we must invest in babies and their families now. It is a win: win: win. Not only will increased support make a difference to the health and wellbeing of children and reduce inequalities in outcomes, it will support the wider community, and ultimately support the economy in years to come. Collaboration is the key here, the investment needs to be in statutory services, charities and in grass-roots organisations, with co-creation with parents and evidence at the heart of it.”
Peter Grigg, Chief Executive of Home-Start UK, said: “When families face stress and adversity, it is harder for parents to provide their babies with the nurturing care they need to thrive. We know that poverty, mental health problems, conflict and abuse can all impact early childhood development and that for many families these issues have increased during the pandemic. That’s why there is a real urgency that there are services and resources in communities to support parents and children right now.”
Among concerns is the impact of the pandemic on parental mental health.
One in eight (12%) professionals and volunteers surveyed say baby and toddler groups no longer operate in their area, and for those still running, booking systems can make them hard to access. The flexible, drop-in nature was a key part of what makes groups attractive. The absence or inaccessibility of community baby and toddler groups exacerbates feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Research from the 2020 Babies in Lockdown research highlighted that six in 10 (61%) parents shared significant concerns about their mental health and almost 9 in 10 (87%) parents were more anxious as a result of the pandemic. In the latest report, in-depth interviews with parents found there were high levels of anxiety, specifically about the impact of COVID-19.