If the government collected a pound for every word of commentary about the Budget, it could probably make a large dent in the deficit. I've decided not to add my voice to that commentary, but instead to set out a vision for a future budget or spending review. Whilst the government are unlikely to change their minds in response to last week's criticism, I hope they will be receptive to suggestions for the future.
My vision is of a 'Budget for Babies', a budget where the government commits, or redirects, more funding for services for the youngest children and their families. These services would help all families to care for their babies, and, in particular, would provide support for struggling families and where babies are at particular risk of neglect or abuse. David Cameron has said that making early intervention a theme for the next comprehensive spending review is "a very sensible suggestion", so I hope that this vision can one day become a reality. Not only is this a moral imperative but an economic one, too.
It is now beyond dispute that the care babies receive in the first few weeks of life is critical to their development and their later wellbeing. Sadly, many babies do not live in stable and supportive families, and do not develop healthy relationships with their parents. In the worst cases, these babies suffer abuse and neglect and are then more likely to experience a range of problems into their adult lives.
Despite the importance of early relationships, health services are often too stretched to spend time helping parents to interact with their babies, and very few specialist services exist for families who are really struggling. Effective services do exist - but they are patchy at best.
New NSPCC research has found that only one in six new mums said they got any information from a professional about the problems they might have in bonding with their babies. We also know very few mums and dads would be able to access support if they actually experienced these problems.
The cost of allowing babies to grow up without sufficient care and attention are high, not just for individuals, but also for society and for the economy. We know that babies who don't have healthy, early relationships with their parents are more likely to suffer behavioural problems, which can manifest in the classroom or in their communities. As adults they can develop a range of physical and mental health problems, all of which have clear costs for public services and society as a whole.
It is widely recognised that early intervention is a more efficient and effective way of delivering public services. Services to support parenting and reduce abuse and neglect will generate future returns for the state in two ways: First, they will reduce future burdens on public services, and second, they will increase the likelihood that children will reach their full potential and therefore contribute to the economy and the exchequer. Evidence shows us that intervening early to prevent abuse and neglect of babies could save the government as much as £4 for every £1 invested.
On average, 23 babies a year die from abuse and neglect, and thousands more grow up without the care they need to help them to thrive. I believe we have a moral duty to invest in services that can stop this from happening, but if that doesn't convince politicians, I hope the economic case will.
Find out more about the NSPCC's work to protect babies at http://bit.ly/NSPCCbabies
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