Improved and standardised national training for health visitors, midwives and other healthcare workers is required to ensure uniform delivery of nutritional, play and activity advice for pre-school children, according to a group of cross-party MPs.
In their report looking at action needed to improve the health and wellbeing of children aged 0-8, the MPs identified variations in the support provided by healthcare workers to parents and found continuing professional development provision to be “patchy”.
“CPD remains fragmented and in many cases it is limited, difficult to access and non-accredited”
The Early Years report
Among their recommendations, the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood called for increased investment in health visitor training.
This should ensure, in particular, that they can advise parents on early life nutrition, including an understanding of how cultural factors affect parents’ decision-making.
The investment should also mean health visitors are able to see all mothers antenatally and keep in contact with families, stated The Early Years report.
In addition, an expansion of the midwifery workforce is recommended to ensure there is a “national guarantee that every woman will have the support of a midwife she knows and trusts through pregnancy to postnatal care”.
“The cost to the Exchequer of failure to invest [during children’s early years] can incur massive expenditure across the life course”
Improved national training for midwives and maternity support workers in breastfeeding and bottle feeding should also be provided, with increased resources for recruiting and retaining them and breastfeeding mentors in hospitals and in the community, stated the report.
Mental health support must be “embedded” in every aspect of pregnancy and childbirth care, it added.
The group of MPs made 100 recommendations in total after reviewing evidence of segregated working among health and education professions continues, despite early years services requiring a holistic approach.
They also identified “a clear gap” in perinatal, infant and toddler nutrition policy across the UK and highlighted the importance of continual professional development, warning that nutrition knowledge in particular can “easily” become outdated.
“The roll out of CPD in general is patchy. It can be accessed via various training routes but remains fragmented and in many cases it is limited, difficult to access and non-accredited,” the report noted.
Helen Clark, chair of the working group behind the report, said: “The way children develop is set in those very early years – and even prior to birth.
“The cost to the Exchequer of failure to invest at that time can incur massive expenditure across the life course and an unwarranted burden on social services, health, education, benefit and the criminal justice system,” she added.