In 2014, we published a report with a title that was difficult to ignore.
Why Children Die looked at child mortality and found that every year, an estimated 2,000 additional children - that’s 5 a day - die in the UK compared to the best performing country, Sweden.
Poverty was linked to many of the deaths. With preventable factors like smoking during pregnancy often playing a part in the preterm births that can damage infant’s health and development.
Of course, child health in the UK has improved dramatically in recent decades. We have modern healthcare largely to thank for this wonderful achievement. But when such disparity exists between neighbouring countries there is obviously much work still to be done – and that work must start before birth.
Our report Poor Beginnings the following year showed a clear correlation between poverty and poor health outcomes for under five year olds measuring four factors, obesity, tooth decay, hospital admission due to accidents and readiness for school.
To make a dent on these statistics we know we need to work with parents, carers and children themselves to address the factors involved and by improving the services they rely on.
In a unique initiative, across the country, local authorities, the voluntary sector and health bodies are working together with pregnant mothers and children up to age four in five disadvantaged areas. With National Lottery funding from the Big Lottery Fund for the A Better Start programme our aim is to not just save lives, but to give children the very best chance at flourishing.
In Lambeth, the National Children’s Bureau leads the Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP), working across four wards within this diverse London Borough. We want to make Lambeth the best place in the world to grow up. The programmes run by LEAP include some universal services and others targeted at particularly vulnerable groups. We are improving diet and nutrition, communication and language and social and emotional development for children. In a local authority with an increasing divide between the richest and poorest, we are focusing on overcoming the barriers that disadvantage places between a child and good physical and mental health.
This starts with pregnancy. So, in the four wards we’re working in, every mother and father to be are offered opportunities to be part of programmes aimed at supporting their health and well-being
I’m very excited that LEAP will, this week, be hosting a learning and development conference for all five of the A Better Start programmes across the country – with a special focus on how health and development starts before birth. Welcome to our colleagues from Blackpool, Bradford, Nottingham and Southend-on-Sea
This will be an excellent opportunity to share early findings with each other. We want to share it more widely too so that our successes can be built on in every local area. If you work in early childhood development tune in to us via Twitter via on the 28/29 September for a flavor of the discussions.
Knowing that pregnancy is the foundation upon which a person’s future health and life chances are built, we must get better at supporting mothers and fathers at an early stage. There is a host of emerging good practice based on rigorous research: there is too much at stake for us to ignore it.
Follow the Better Start event ‘Beginning Before Birth’ on Twitter via @NCBtweets / @LEAPLambeth #ABetterStart