Andrea Leadsom review proposes 'Start for Life' package for new UK parents

Family hub network planned to aid access to midwives, health visitors, social workers and other support

All prospective parents should be able to access a “Start for Life” package of services that brings together the support available in their local area, to prevent families falling through the cracks, the government adviser Andrea Leadsom is urging.

Leadsom, who was leader of the House of Commons in Theresa May’s government, is chairing a review of the experience of families during the crucial first 1,001 days of their babies’ lives.

She would like the new family hubs the government is creating to have a particular focus on the parents of the youngest children, allowing them to access midwives, health visitors, social workers and other experts.

Highlighting that babies from more deprived backgrounds tend to suffer worse health outcomes, Leadsom is calling for all new parents to be offered a Start for Life pack, setting out what services they can access locally.

The prime minister commissioned Leadsom to carry out the review and appointed her as a government adviser, but she has not yet convinced the Treasury to set aside extra funding to expand the availability of services. That will be now her task during a year-long implementation phase, during which she plans to submit a bid to next year’s spending review.

Asked whether she was simply advocating the recreation of Labour’s Sure Start centres, many of which have been cut back or shut down over the past decade, Leadsom said she would expect many local authorities to merge the remaining centres with the hubs she is suggesting.

“I think the key thing with the family hubs is, they will be a welcoming place for all families: that’s where Sure Start started,” Leadsom said. “We’ll certainly be working with local authorities on how they can bring their Sure Start estate into the family hub network.”

Leadsom would also like families to be given the chance to register their child’s birth at the hubs, so they can access services at the same time.

She added that evidence from families with new babies during lockdown pointed to the fact that the hubs should make many services – such as breastfeeding and mental health support – available online, to reach as many people as possible.

Leadsom has also laid out plans to digitise the “red books” parents are given to record each child’s developmental milestones, by 2023. The books, in which babies’ weight and other measurements are recorded as well as their vaccination records and other health data, have to be retained by parents and taken to medical appointments.

She believes a digital version would help to join up the different professionals who work with parents. “This work is going to be undertaken during the implementation phase,” she said.

Health minister Jo Churchill said: “Most babies are born healthy and enjoy a safe and nurturing childhood. However, some do not, therefore I am committed to removing barriers so all children are supported and nurtured so they are ready for life.

“This vision document sets out key areas for improvement to ensure every child has an opportunity to thrive and achieve their potential, regardless of their background.”


Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

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