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The Government has announced a five-year £290 million investment which will allow more than 30,000 women each year to have access to specialist mental health care before and after having their baby.
This will be through perinatal classes, new community perinatal teams and more beds in mother and baby units, allowing mothers with serious mental health problems to receive quality support.
Previous research has revealed that one in five new mothers develop a mental health problem around the time of the birth of their child and some 30,000 more women need specialist services. If untreated this can turn into a lifelong illness, proven to increase the likelihood of poor outcomes to the mother or new baby.
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcements, secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, said: “Giving people the right mental health support is one of the most important ways to make sure everyone has the best start in life.
“We are boosting the mental health support available, putting more mental health professionals in emergency departments and helping new and expectant mums and their babies to be happy and healthy.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind and independent chair of NHS England’s taskforce on mental health, added: “This is a significant moment for mental health and we are pleased to see the Prime Minister giving it the attention it deserves. Mental health is hugely important in any discussion about improving life chances and mental health problems can affect anyone, from mums-to-be preparing for their first child to older people at risk of isolation.
“The Prime Minister rightly recognises some key priorities that have been identified by the mental health taskforce, which will soon be publishing its full report. Children and young people, pregnant women and new mums, and those in crisis urgently need better services and support. But it doesn’t stop there.
“The taskforce will be setting out the road map for the next five years, a transformational plan that will require a commitment at every level, from Government right through to every local community.”
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, commented: “A sea change in public attitudes coupled with an increasing range of effective mental health treatments means that now is the time to tackle the huge unmet need that affects families and communities across the nation.
“Today’s measures are a critical first step, and when our independent task-force publishes its final report in a few weeks, the whole NHS will need to mobilise to translate their wider proposals into action.”
Relationship support funding
In the wide ranging speech, the Prime Minister also included an announcement on strengthening families, including a pledge of £70 million for relationship support funding as he aims to tackle poverty by reducing the number of separated parents over the next five years. It is expected to help more than 300,000 couples and train more than 10,000 professionals in preventing relationship breakdown.
The Prime Minister said: “Families are the best anti-poverty measure ever invented. They are a welfare, education and counselling system all wrapped up into one. Children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those whose families stay together. That’s why strengthening families is at the heart of our agenda.”
The announcement has been welcomed by Relate, a charity which provides relationship counselling. Chris Sherwood, chief executive at Relate commented: ”We are delighted by today’s announcement of increased funding for relationship support, something that Relate has long been calling for.
“Relationship support can help to reduce family breakdown, which is a key driver of poverty and can result in poor outcomes for children.
“Relationships are under increasing pressure. Currently over a million people every year access support from Relate, but this is just the tip of the iceberg and we know many more would benefit from our services. This funding could make a real difference to the life chances of thousands of children.”
In continuing efforts to improve young children’s life chances, the Government also commented on The Life Chances Strategy, a five-year initiative launched in December 2015, which includes a plan for significantly expanding parenting provision.
The speech covered the possible introduction of a voucher scheme for parenting classes and recommended the best way to incentivise parents to participate in the classes.
The Prime Minister aims to make it ‘normal’ and ‘even aspirational’ for parents to take up parenting classes to help them communicate, discipline and play with their children.
He added: “In the end, getting parenting and the early years right isn’t just about the hardest-to-reach families; it’s about everyone.
“We all have to work at it. And if you don’t have a strong support network – if you don’t know other mums or dads – having your first child can be enormously isolating.
“Of course they don’t come with a manual, but is it right that all of us get so little guidance? We’ve made progress. We’ve dramatically expanded the number of health visitors, and that is crucial. But that just deals with one part of parenting – the first few weeks and months. What about later on, when it comes to play, communication, behaviour and discipline? We all need more help with this – the most important job we’ll ever have.
“So I believe we now need to think about how to make it normal – even aspirational – to attend parenting classes.”
Commenting on the Government’s announcement regarding parenting classes, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance said: “The Alliance has long held the belief that parents are a child’s most important educators, and so welcomes any investment into initiatives aimed at helping parents to engage with their children and support their early development in the best ways possible.
"That said, it’s vital that these classes recognise that one size doesn’t fit all, and ensures that the focus is on building and supporting positive relationships between parent and child, and not on ‘discipline’ and ‘control’.
"It’s also vital that the scheme receives sufficient funding to ensure that take-up is high, that the classes reach families who feel they need additional support, and critically, that the quality of the classes is such that they do in fact provide a useful service to the parents that use them.”
Responding to the Life Chances Strategy, Imelda Redmond, chief executive of 4Children commented: “We welcome the recognition that families are the bedrock of society and that positive parenting can have a huge impact on a child’s life chances. Making parenting classes the norm will help many families to bring out the best in their children and manage the difficulties that all parents face.
"However, parenting classes and relationship support will not, by themselves, radically change the life chances of children living in poverty. Families are telling us that despite their best intentions, long working hours and financial pressures are having a detrimental impact on family relationships. Helping families to achieve a better work-life balance, and financial security, will also need to be addressed if the Prime Minister’s strategy is to work. ”