THE NSPCC is warning of the long-lasting impact on the future health, wellbeing and life chances of babies born during the pandemic, as parents face heightened stress, social isolation and mental health problems.
Today, at its flagship How Safe conference – being held online this year – the charity brought together a panel of guest speakers who discussed mental health in pregnancy and the child’s first year, the impact of the pandemic and its Fight for a Fair Startcampaign which is calling for every family to get the help they need.
Hosted by TV presenter Cherry Healey, the group included presenter and broadcaster Nush Cope, TV presenter, podcaster and host of ‘The Baby Club’ Nigel Clarke, Dr. Brooke Vandermolen and Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation.
This comes as new NSPCC data reveals that between April 2020 and January 2021, its helpline received 3,608 child welfare contacts about parental mental health, with the monthly average increasing by 44% compared to the previous year [i].
The panel today discussed what it means to navigate one of life’s biggest challenges in the middle of a national health crisis and the vital importance of health visitors, as well as concerns about the long-lasting effect on babies and parents and what essential support is needed for both mums and dads moving forwards.
Dr. Brooke Vandermolen told the panel:
“I think this is something that really hasn’t been talked about enough until now. The pandemic has had such a massive impact on new parents and we are going to be seeing the repercussions for many years to come.
“From the start of pregnancy, a lot of my patients and the people I am seeing coming through the system feel unsupported, and if you feel unsupported from day one, then you don’t feel empowered to speak up when you have issues.”
As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, the NSPCC is calling on the Government to prioritise parents and babies in the nation’s recovery.
A member of the public told the NSPCC’s helpline:
“A friend of mine has been struggling with depression ever since she gave birth to her son, who is now two years-old. I didn’t think anything of it at first, I assumed her depression was just a phase, but then I realised just how much it was impacting her life.
“Some days she’s barely able to function, like she can barely get out of bed. What concerns me most is her little one is often left to fend for himself – her ex is long out of the picture and she doesn’t get any kind of support.”
Social distancing measures have meant that many fathers and partners have been excluded from scans and many women have given birth without a partner or supporter present. As well as parents and babies having limited access to invaluable support from family and friends over the past year, up to 50% of health visitors were redeployed away from supporting families in some areas [ii]during the first lockdown.
All of this has had an unprecedented impact on pregnancy, birth and the start of a child’s life.
A survey undertaken during the pandemic by Parent-Infant Foundation, Best Beginnings and Home Start found six in 10 new parents shared significant concerns about their mental health because of the additional stress caused by COVID. A third (34%) of parents reported that interaction with their child had changed and just over one in 10 (11%) parents of children under two saw a health visitor face-to-face[iii].
The NSPCC is concerned that restricted access to services has resulted in mental health problems in pregnancy and the first year going under the radar of professionals, making it harder for parents to get the support they need. Without this support, it can be harder for parents affected by mental health problems to provide the care a baby needs to thrive.
The charity has long warned that without the right support at the right time, mental health problems during pregnancy and the first year can have serious immediate and long-term consequences for women, their children and other family members.
Well before the pandemic, reductions in public health spending on early years and a significant decline in health visitors meant many families were not getting the help they need.
Vicky Nevin, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the NSPCC said: “The period during pregnancy and after birth is a crucial time when parents are finding their feet, building bonds with their baby and trying to give them the best possible start in life. Health visitors are in a prime position to reach families at this important early stage, to build trust and to spot any mental health concerns.
“Access to support for families and babies has long been inconsistent, but the pandemic has now thrown up even bigger challenges for parents. Now is the time for urgent action to ensure that health visitors are able to build up those vital relationships with parents and to refer families to quality services in the local area.”
As Government plans for new national leadership of public health in England, it must use this opportunity to set out a new and ambitious plan that will give every child the best start in life. This means investing in local services that support parents during pregnancy and in the first year of a child’s life and rebuilding the health visiting workforce to have the capacity to deliver five consistent face to face visits. If the Government is to keep its promise to ‘level up’ opportunity across the country, investment should be focused in local areas where the need is greatest.
help parents get through this crisis. The charity has released a series of new campaign videos which highlight why it’s essential that support is in place at every stage – from the first check-up through to specialist help if needed.
Fight for a Fair Start is supported by Jo Malone London who have also funded direct services to new and prospective parents, focusing on support with their mental health problems, to help them develop secure and healthy relationships with their children.