Skip to main content

Healthy beginnings: Giving our children the best start in life

A newborn baby’s brain is only around one-quarter the size of an adult’s. It grows to about 80 per cent of adult size by three years and 90 per cent by age five. A baby’s earliest experiences will shape their brain development, and have a lifelong impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

Giving children a healthy start in life is one of the most important jobs councils do and we all have a duty to make sure that children, along with their mums and dads, have access to the services they need.

That’s why the transfer of public health commissioning responsibilities for under-fives to local government marks such a tremendous opportunity. It brings a new momentum for developing and driving forward a shared vision for local children, young people and families.

As you will already know, this journey began in 2013 when the school nursing service and the Healthy Child programme for five to 19-year-olds transferred to local government, along with wider public health responsibilities. Since then we have seen health and wellbeing boards prioritise Marmot’s most important principle – ‘to give every child the best start in life’ – and now we have a fresh opportunity to deliver that commitment.

We are excited about this opportunity. Health visitors are in an excellent place to spot problems early and to deliver support to stop problems from escalating. By learning from the previous public health transfer we can build on the good work that already exists.

Councils and school nurses are already working together to coordinate and deliver public health interventions for school-aged children. This work includes reducing
childhood obesity, under-18 conception rates, prevalence of chlamydia, and management of mental health disorders.

Health visitors, family nurses and school nurses will play an important role in helping councils to join up pathways for children from birth to age 19, and for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities up to age 25.

Working with partners we can make sure that children and young people experience smooth transitions between social care, education and health services at key points in their life.

Councils, as new commissioners of these services, will need to understand the needs of their local communities so that they can provide quality and cost-effective services. It’s the rich information that school nurses, health visitors and family nurses hold that councils will value when commissioning and designing services.

I hope partners will use the transfer to be ambitious for their local children, young people and families. This will of course require strong partnership working, listening and learning from each other, creativity and sheer hard work to overcome organisational barriers. But if we persevere, our children, our communities and our organisations will continue to reap the benefits for many years to come.