William Eichler 21 December 2020

Babies ‘largely invisible’ in pandemic response

Babies and young children have been forgotten in the Government’s response to the pandemic, health visitors warn.

A survey of 862 health visitors in practice in England has found that almost two-thirds of health visitors reported an increase in cases of child neglect.

Published by the Institute of Health Visiting, the survey also revealed that four out of five health visitors reported soaring increases in domestic violence and abuse, perinatal mental illness, and the negative impact of poverty on families.

According to the results of the poll, 82% of health visitors reported an increase in domestic violence and abuse and 81% an increase in perinatal mental illness and poverty.

Over three quarters (76%) reported an increase in the use of food banks and speech/communication delay and 61% reported an increase in neglect. Forty-five percent also warned of a rise in substance abuse.

The Institute of Health Visiting said that the impact of the pandemic has been made worse by years of cuts to the public health budget. There has been a 31% reduction in health visitors since 2015.

The findings also expose what the health visiting organisation calls ‘significant flaws’ in the way the nationally funded health visiting service is prioritised and delivered. The institute describes it as ‘a postcode lottery of support’.

Commenting on the survey findings, Sally Hogg, head of policy and campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation and coordinator of the First 1001 Days Movement, said: ‘This report adds more powerful evidence to the growing body of research showing the impact of the pandemic on babies, their families and the services that support them. It paints a worrying picture of increased risks to babies and widening inequalities.

‘Despite the hard work of many passionate and skilled professionals, depleted services across the country are not resourced to provide the support that many families so desperately need. Our babies are our future, and their needs must be taken seriously. Government cannot ignore this issue any longer, investment is urgently needed, and action is long overdue. Babies can’t wait.’

The Institute of Health Visiting said it is imperative that a long-term plan is put in place to protect the health visiting workforce, which provides a vital ‘safety-net’ for our most vulnerable members of society and ensures that the crucial services they provide are no-longer at risk from policy changes by subsequent governments.

Alison Morton, deputy executive director at the Institute of Health Visiting, said: 'Babies and young children were largely invisible in the first wave of the Government’s emergency plans.

'With a growing body of evidence, we now know that many children are being harmed by the secondary impact of the pandemic and we cannot knowingly overlook their needs again, as we live with the virus for the foreseeable future.'

She added: 'Whilst the vaccine brings the glimmer of a “light at the end of the tunnel”, babies and young children cannot wait – they need help now. Failing to effectively address their needs will only store up significant problems for the future.'

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