Stronger from the Start

It’s Infant Mental Health Awareness Week!  An annual celebration of all the work that goes on to support the social and emotional development of babies and their families and a reminder that we still have a road to travel to ensure all children get the best start in life.

We’re passionate about early years at the National Children’s Bureau.  We know that early help, intervention and investment based on need and robust evidence can transform outcomes in both the short and longer term.  That’s why we’ve joined with colleagues from across the community & voluntary sector in Northern Ireland to develop and promote the #strongerfromthestart campaign.

This campaign calls on the NI Minister for Health to adopt a lifespan approach to the NI Mental Health Strategy, due for publication in July 2021, and for the explicit inclusion and resourcing of infant mental health initiatives.  It also appeals to the NI Executive to demonstrate better joined-up approaches to addressing inequalities as early as possible, a whole child, whole family, whole community approach to wellbeing.

We’re hugely encouraged by the number and diversity of organisations who have joined the campaign, brought together by the Northern Ireland Association of Infant Mental Health (AIMHNI) of which we are a committee member. Throughout the week we’ll be sharing the key asks of the campaign along with evidence and research on the importance of infant mental health.

Stronger from the start social media pack

We’re also continuing our work in providing expert and technical support to the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the NI Infant Mental Health Framework. On Monday 7 June 2021, we’re hosting a planning meeting for the establishment of an Infant Mental Health Community of Practice for Northern Ireland which will support practitioners from across the 5 Health & Social Care Trust areas to share learning on what works and develop practitioner focused solutions to improve infant mental health workforce development and service delivery.  On Thursday 10 June, members of the Regional Infant Mental Health Implementation Group will join us to set up the first of 2 new Task & Finish Groups looking at IMH Communications and IMH Dashboard Development respectively.

Friday might just prove the highlight of my week though, as I get to join my first meeting as a steering group member of the Maternal Advocacy & Support Project. The ‘Mas’ project is run by the Women’s Resource & Development Agency in 8 women’s centres in Northern Ireland to create a network of peer support groups for women experiencing perinatal mental health issues.  It’s been said that the parent-infant relationship is the most powerful mental health tool available to us and having previously been involved in a similar role with the community based perinatal support project at South Belfast Sure Start, I know just how empowering and transformative these relationship-focused initiatives can be. 

I hope you can find the time this week to engage in our #strongerfromthestart campaign, to join one of the many Infant Mental Health Awareness Week events on offer or to read more about why the first 1001 days of life are so critical in laying the foundations of lifelong mental and physical health. If not, just to be kind to yourself and remember to smile at the next mum, dad or carer of a baby you see.

Big changes really do start in small places, close to home.

Deirdre McAliskey, NI Early Years Lead