Services have failed to ensure that babies and their families are protected from the ongoing impact of the pandemic, which has had a lingering impact on many children, a survey has found.
Almost all (94.8%) of the 555 professionals surveyed said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on the social or personal skills of children, while 92% say the same of ‘communication, speech, and language skills and for emotional wellbeing and development’
The Casting Long Shadows report, published by the Institute of Health Visitors and the First 1001 Days Movement, synthesised data from recent studies and a survey of professionals to reveal a concerning picture of the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
Sally Hogg, the report’s author, told Nursing in Practice that there was a ‘baby blindspot’ in the Government’s response to the pandemic.
‘For children and families these are such formative stages and if something goes wrong it can have a lasting impact’ she said.
‘We all need to be taking this seriously and putting pressure on Government to take it seriously. The ripple effects of this are huge and, wherever you work, you are going to see the impacts of this. We [healthcare workers] all have a shared interest in getting things right for these children.’
The report found that early years services are in ‘crisis’ and have not returned to normal since the pandemic. Six in ten respondents to the survey who said that services had changed said that these changes had not been beneficial for families.
In particular a shift to virtual working amongst health visitors meant that the full range of normal checks could not be effectively delivered.
Likewise, the majority of respondents (90.5% in England) did not feel that national or local governments had taken sufficient action to ensure that babies under two and their families receive the support they need to recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Alison Morton, iHV executive director, said: ‘What happens during these critical earliest years of life really does matter as they lay the foundations for future health and wellbeing. Yet, the report paints a bleak picture for babies in the UK.
‘Too many are missing out on vital early support that can make such a difference. Ignoring this growing problem of unmet need and avoidable harms is short-sighted and will prove more costly in the long run.’
The mental health strain has long-lasting impacts, not only on children but their parents. The report found that many families had far smaller social circles compared to families who had children pre-pandemic, leading to a reduction in the development of social skills.
Ms Hogg pointed out that mothers not being able to join parenting groups and make connections puts more strain on parents, and also means that children receive fewer social interactions at critical points in their development.
Nearly half of respondents reported that ‘many’ babies were impacted by this change to more sedentary behaviour and less stimulation and play.
‘practice nurses may have a greater role to play now’ said Ms Hogg, ‘and there is more need for nurses to be aware of this issue.
‘Particularly in general practice, there needs to be an awareness that these children are often invisible. They might be the first professional that this child has seen face to face since they were a newborn, so there’s an important opportunity, and a need to be alert to any problems’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to supporting families and giving young children and babies the best start in life. Over £300 million has been committed to the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme for 75 local authorities across England which high levels of deprivation, to enhance services and improve outcomes.
‘The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement delivered a £6.6 billion boost to the NHS which will tackle what matters most to patients, including clearing the Covid backlogs and improving access to services.’