Home-Start welcomes the 'Start for Life' Review, but this must be just the start. It is a welcome government commitment to improving health and wellbeing in the early years, we now need to see an ambitious partnership between all sectors, including the voluntary sector, to make real change for children.

We welcome the ambitions set out in the review but would urge government to make tangible commitments to enable parents to give their babies the strongest start in life. The pandemic presents a unique opportunity for a seismic shift in thinking and action, and yet we see a continued baby blind-spot in the response. Sustainable investment in the support structures for babies, children and families is long overdue. We must not only restore our depleted services. We must also harness the voices of parents of all backgrounds to find new solutions, innovate and build systems of support and services that deliver to their needs and the needs of their children in the 2020s and beyond

Today’s document should act as a springboard towards an ambitious cross-government strategy and implementation plan for under-twos. Building on the actions set out today, the Government must now create a timeline for delivery, and clarify which Cabinet Minister will oversee this programme of work. It is vitally important this review informs the next Spending Review. The Treasury must now commit to working with other government departments to ensure that there is funding available to deliver this vision. 

It is also vitally important that any plan for the future recognises the critical role that volunteer and peer support, and home-visiting can play in providing support to families and their children in the earliest years. The last year has shown just how important volunteers and services rooted within local communities are to supporting children. 

As the review acknowledges the national lockdown has limited opportunities to identify child development concerns and to support parents struggling at a time of increased need. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on babies brought into the world at a time when 60% of parents have reported serious concerns about their mental health. Fathers have been routinely excluded from perinatal services. Many elements of the Healthy Child Programme were paused when families needed it most, creating a backlog of missed check-ups and support that have not been addressed by catch-up funding. In addition to the long-term reform set out in this review, urgent government action must be taken to include parents and babies in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. 

The Start for Life Review paves the way for a clear universal offer in every local area including health visiting, midwifery, breastfeeding and mental health support, as well as welcoming hubs where families can access public and third sector services. Alongside the introduction of a digital red book, there are opportunities for integrated care systems to reach all families with enhanced support using digital resources to provide personalised, parent-centred, peer-reviewed information with signposting to local and national services

Finally, Government must act to address the worsening crisis of child poverty. Urgent measures are needed so parents are not denied the choices and environment they need to match their ambitions to give their children the best start in life, and so every child can flourish. This is vital to tackling the health and educational inequalities that have been growing in recent years and have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. As the review acknowledges, getting things right for children in the first 1001 days holds the key to levelling up opportunities those born in more deprived areas. The Government can level up and improve life chances