Uniting Behind the First 1001 Days

- A blog from Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Campaigning at PIP UK 

The first 1001 days of a child’s life – from conception to 2 – are critically important. During this period, millions of neural connections are made and pruned. The brain is more ‘plastic’ or adaptable, and babies’ experiences literally shape their developing brains.

Donald Winnicott famously said, “there is no such thing as a baby”; babies only exist with a caregiver. Children’s earliest experiences are shaped by their caregivers, which is why parent-infant relationships are vitally important. When parents can be ‘tuned-in’, and respond sensitively and appropriately to babies’ needs, this supports their social, emotional and cognitive development.

Children who have had good early relationships are better able to regulate their emotions and to make friends and learn, which increases the likelihood that they will achieve their potential in later life and contribute to society and the economy.

None of this is news to Family Nurses and other professionals working with families during the first years of life: It’s why their work is so critically important, not just for individual families, but for the future of our society. However, sadly these messages are still not fully understood or acted up by decision makers at a local and national level. We’ve seen recent developments in maternity services and mental health services for school age children, but a huge void in strategy, and significant cuts in spending, for services for babies and young children.

 The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Conception to Age 2: the Critical First 1001 Days, was formed to bring together parliamentarians and the wider sector to promote the importance of early life and to help and encourage policy makers to make informed decisions on provision in this period.

You may be aware of the APPG’s cross-party manifesto which set out a commitment to the first 1001 days in 2013, and again in 2015. 

Parent Infant Partnership UK support the APPG, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that the group continues to influence key decisions and generate awareness of and support for early life.

In November, we organised an exciting meeting in the Houses of Parliament to hear about relevant work currently underway across Westminster and Whitehall. Attendance at the meeting was remarkable, with people sitting on the floor and spilling out into the corridor. 

Speakers acknowledged that Government policy and spending is fragmented and does not currently recognise and reflect the importance of the first 1001 days. However, there is opportunity through the Select Committee reports, new Government policies, the NHS Long Term Plan and the Cross-Government Group to challenge and change this in 2019.

At the meeting, chair Tim Loughton MP described how, although many individuals and organisations talk passionately about the first 1001 days, we do so in different ways – and not always in a way that resonates with decision makers. Tim asked those individual connected to the APPG to work together to create a clear, concise and compelling story, based on the best evidence. This will enable us all to communicate clearly and consistently about why everyone should all be concerned about the first 1001 days. Tim asked the group to create a one-page narrative or infographic which could be “on the pin boards of civil servants’ and local authority offices up and down the country.”

Parent Infant Partnership are bringing people together to develop this product, which will be presented back to the APPG at the end of February. We are thrilled that over 120 people have already fed in their views via an online survey and more professionals and parents will attend a workshop at the end of the month. It is hoped that the final product can be cobranded by a range of organisations and used by anyone who wishes to raise awareness of, and support for, the first 1001 days. This will be the basis of further collaboration and joint campaigning activity.

Attendance at the APPG is open to any individual with an interest in the first 1001 days. To keep up to date about the work of the APPG and to find out how to get involved, subscribe to the mailing list here.