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Senior Tory MP Andrea Leadsom, an adviser to Boris Johnson on early years health, is seeking views from mothers and fathers on how to strengthen the care and advice available through the crucial initial stages of starting a family. Healthcare staff, charities and volunteer groups will also be asked for their input into the push to provide support for parents during the 1,001 days from a child's conception to its second birthday.
Ms Leadsom told the Daily Express: "The coronavirus lockdown has brought into focus many of the challenges that new families face. Many have struggled with feelings of isolation and not knowing who to turn to for help.
"We want to use these experiences to learn how we can improve services as we go forward."
Parents and those involved in prenatal and postnatal care are being invited to complete online questionnaires launched as part of a review of Government support for early years development being led by Ms Leadsom.
The questionnaires will be open for volunteers to complete on the Government’s gov.uk website from 9am today.
Her initiative follows research suggesting the first two years of a child's life have a decisive impact on their long-term physical and mental development.
Ms Leadsom says better support for families in the run up to childbirth and afterwards can improve the life chances of youngsters.
Senior Tory MP Andrea Leadsom, an adviser to Boris Johnson on early years health (Image: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
The former Cabinet minister, who was asked to carry out the review by the Prime Minister shortly after his arrival in Downing Street last year, said Mr Johnson was giving his full backing to the project.
"The Prime Minister is absolutely supporting it, as is Health Secretary Matt Hancock. We have a great team fully committed to making the programme a success."
Ms Leadom wanted to hear about parents' experience of prenatal and postnatal care to find out what was working and what could be improved.
She said: "As well as helping the review to shape the services needed by new babies and their parents, this questionnaire will help to gather experiences of parents who had a baby during the coronavirus lockdown.
"This will help us to understand the many challenges faced, as well as to learn what worked well and what new innovations we can build on.
"The findings of this questionnaire will help the review to shape our recommendations and to promote the best start in life for every baby."
Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: "To help inform our work on the Early Years Development Review we want to hear from new or expectant parents, carers and healthcare professionals about their experiences of life with baby throughout this recent critical and unusual time living with coronavirus.
"What worked well and what could have been improved – so we can ensure babies and young children are supported and nurtured during these vital early years.
"Now is your chance to help shape this important piece of work, so please let us know your views through our online questionnaire so we can better understand what building blocks we need for those first critical 1001 days."
The review of early years development is being seen among ministers as a key part of the Prime Minister's drive to "level up" Britain.
It aims to find ways of reducing disparities in birth weight, improving social and emotional development in early years, and reducing the impact of vulnerability and adverse childhood experiences in infancy.
Research from NHS England suggests one in five mothers and one in 10 fathers experience mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth.
Public Health Minister Jo Churchill (Image: Chris McAndrew/GOV)
Pregnancy can often be a trigger for domestic abuse, with between 15-30 percent of domestic violence cases starting during this time.
Ms Leadsom is expected to submit her findings and policy recommendations from the first phase of the Review into Early Years Healthy Development next January.
Comment by Andrea Leadsom
The Coronavirus lockdown has shown us as never before the vital importance of supporting new families in the period from pregnancy to birth, and infancy. It is during those crucial 1,001 days from conception to age two that a baby's brain is developing exponentially, and engagement with loving parents and carers has a potentially life changing impact.
During lockdown we showed great care for the older generation – for grandparents, vulnerable elderly neighbours and even national heroes like Colonel Sir Tom Moore, and yet, a huge piece missing from much of the COVID-19 discussion has been the impact on newborns and our youngest during the pandemic.
The relative of a parliamentary colleague of mine had a baby just before lockdown. During those early months, she didn't get to meet or mix with any other babies or children. When her family were eventually reunited, the now seventh month old cried all weekend, unsettled by the strange sensation of new faces, new voices and a bigger group around her.
Future studies will no doubt assess the impact that lockdown has had on the very young but we already know that the earliest experiences can have a profound effect on the lifelong emotional health of each of us as human beings.
For over two decades I have been championing causes in an effort to make sure every baby gets the best start in life, and that means ensuring that every family is properly supported where and when they need it.
From excellent midwifery checks to mental health assessments to promoting breastfeeding to relationship support, it is not just the physical experience of giving birth that requires empathetic and professional help.
Sadly, research suggests that one in five mums and one in 10 dads experience mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth. Alarmingly it is estimated that up to a third of domestic abuse starts during pregnancy, and in certain other cases, substance misuse during pregnancy can cause serious harm to a new baby.
It is clearly more important than ever to take a hard look at the support we give our youngest, and their parents or carers – and our Review will do just that.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Image: Jonathan Buckmaster/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo)
Alongside the work being carried out by civil servants and clinical professionals, we are setting up three new Advisory Groups: the first with academics who will provide the evidence base for effective interventions; the second with professionals who work on the front line providing support for new families; and the third is a parliamentary group of cross party MPs and peers who have particular expertise.
My colleague Tim Loughton MP will convene this group as someone who has focused on improving outcomes for the youngest in our society over two decades.
With input from families, volunteers, professionals and government departments, we will shape a new vision for an early years strategy that focuses on babies and their carers.
During the Review we will look at what the key challenges have been for new parents during lockdown, and the key learning points for government policy. We will also investigate how early years support can be better delivered using digital technology that may be hugely helpful to families.
And today we are launching an online questionnaire, so that new parents and everyone who provides families with invaluable support, ranging from public sector workers to volunteers and charities, can share their experiences and provide their advice on how to make sure every baby gets the best start in life. The online questionnaire can be accessed on Gov.UK by searching 'Early years healthy development review call for evidence.'
By providing world-class support in the critical early years, we can deliver on the Prime Minister's determination to level-up opportunity right across the country, recognising that this needs to begin well before arriving at school.
With better mental and physical wellbeing from the very start of life, we can foster generations of healthier, happier and more emotionally secure young people in our nation.
Andrea Leadsom is a former Cabinet minister and Early Years Healthy Development Adviser to the Government
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