Investing in our families and in early interventions is not a political issue, I urge my colleagues to get behind the Support for Infants and Parents (Information) Bill

The critical 1001 days of human life, from pregnancy through to two, are the most important. This time is unique and represents a critical period for a child’s future learning and cognitive abilities, physical development, emotional regulation and well-being, and social skills. The quality of care, nutrition and environmental factors during these 1001 days can have lasting effects on a child’s physical and mental health, education, and overall success.

The arrival of a new baby can bring huge joy to families. But it can also be a time of stress and anxiety as parents and carers adjust to this new responsibility, which can be overwhelming for many new parents. There is no rule book in parenting and all families need some help to give their babies the best start in life. Parents are always learning, adapting to the different needs of growing children, and we are all fallible – there is no perfect parent. Help comes from family, friends, healthcare professionals or volunteers. There is often a huge variety of support and services available, but it is not always easy for families to access information about what support is available.

The Support for Infants and Parents etc (Information) Bill is intended to support a baby’s cognitive, emotional and physical development during the 1,001 critical days from pregnancy up to the age of two, by making information on services available easier to access.

The Bill will specifically achieve this by ensuring that local authorities publish a Start for Life offer on their website and via other means they consider appropriate. A Start for Life offer is information on services that the local authority is aware are available in its area for infants, parents or carers of infants, or prospective parents or carers, that are provided by, or on behalf of, public authorities. In particular, the Bill focuses on services that will support the physical and mental health and development of infants, and support parents, carers, or prospective parents and carers in providing support to their infants.

This Bill places a duty on local authorities to publish information on a number of services provided by or on behalf of public authorities; maternity and health visiting for prospective parents or carers, and parents or carers of infants; promoting positive relationships between infants and their parents or carers; mental health; and breastfeeding and other infant feeding. Also, local authorities are able to include additional information on other services that they consider appropriate that are likely to support infants, parents or prospective parents or carers.

The Bill includes a regulation making power so that the Secretary of State may ensure that information on other services, provided by or on behalf of a public authority, and that are likely to support infants, parents or carers of infants, or prospective parents or carers, are included in a Start for Life offer in the future.
The Bill introduces a further duty on the Secretary of State to publish guidance to local authorities relating to these duties.

It is likely – if not advisable – that there will be a huge amount of learning from the Government’s Family Hubs and Start for Life Programme that could be considered and taken on board as part of new statutory guidance. A duty to consult on the statutory guidance will ensure that local authorities and bodies the Secretary of State consults, will have the chance to have their say on what will most help them to fulfil this duty and support families locally.

Finally, the Bill requires the Government to publish an annual report that sets out information about support that is being provided in England for infants and their parents and carers, and prospective parents and carers. The report will also include information that the Secretary of State considers is appropriate to include, such as information about the impact of support on outcomes. This is very important, as it will create further transparency for parents and carers, so that they can understand the support available as they navigate the joys and the challenges of raising a new baby.

Investing in our families and in early interventions is not and should not be a political issue. Investing in the right way and at the right time will yield substantial benefits for individuals and society.

Sally-Ann Hart MP

Sally-Ann Hart is the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, and was elected in 2019.