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All babies count: prevention and protection for vulnerable babies

A review of the evidence

Over recent years, there has been an explosion of new research and understanding about the significance of pregnancy and infancy in laying the foundations for child development. This new knowledge underpins an emerging political consensus around the importance of ‘early intervention’ to help children get the best possible start in life.

Based on extensive research, consultation and original analysis, this report adds new dimensions to the case for early intervention. It shines a light on the disproportionate vulnerability of babies to abuse and neglect; and it provides the first estimates of the numbers of babies affected by parental problems of substance misuse, mental illness and domestic abuse.

The causes of abuse and neglect are complex. And the consequences of early adversity can casta very long shadow, affecting children’s physicaland emotional health, their learning and theircapacity to form positive relationships throughouttheir lives. Failure to act early comes at great cost,not only to individuals but to society at large.

Babies are almost entirely dependent on their immediate caregivers. A parent’s capacity torespond appropriately to the emotions and needsof their babies has a profound impact. Becominga new parent is a major transition; there aretimes when every parent feels under pressureand may struggle to cope with the stresses andresponsibilities of their role. But, for very youngparents, or parents facing additional challengesin their livessuch as mental illness and domesticabuse, this can be a particularly difficult time.Evidence shows it is possible to prevent abuseand neglect and that pregnancy and infancyoffer a unique window of opportunity to workeffectively with families at risk. Our reviewof practice showcases some of the mostsuccessful and promising interventions. Workingwith our partners, the NSPCC is committed to developing, delivering and testing pioneeringmodels of intervention to improve outcomes  for vulnerable babies. But the scale of the challengeis formidable and we need to ensure that effective programmes are made available to all babies whoneed support.

Of course, there are no quick fixes. Translating the rhetoric of early intervention into real change on the ground will take hard work and determination. But I hope this report will make a substantial contribution, setting out the key building blocks to deliver the vision of a society where every baby is safe, nurtured and able to thrive.