'I Had Postnatal Depression And PTSD – I Was Forgotten By The System'

Charities and celebs including Andy Murray are calling on the prime minister to commit to a 'baby and toddler guarantee' to improve services for new parents.
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Any parent raising children in the UK knows that accessing support in those first few years after they’re born is tough. And if you live in certain areas, it can feel nigh impossible.

Between the limited number of postnatal checks which stop at six weeks to the extortionate cost of childcare (which is sinking plenty of parents into debt), forget about any talk of a ‘village’, parents can often feel like they’re very much on their own.

Claire, who preferred not to share her surname, is a solo parent to twin boys and claims she saw a health visitor “just once” before their second birthday.

“I had massive postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I was forgotten,” says the mum from Northamptonshire.

“It wasn’t until I called begging for help that finally something was done, and support was sent.”

She says support needs to be “free and open to everybody” because it is “terrifying, absolutely terrifying to be left on your own”.

“I’m just lucky that I have the friends and family that I have,” she adds.

Rachel’s son has autism. She says the early years provision in her area has been “awful” and they’ve “struggled to get any help since my son was diagnosed”.

“We’re struggling to even get access to the nursery hours we’re paying for and can’t get any additional help … When he starts school, it’s likely it will take me out of my job permanently as there is no SEND provision in the area during the school holidays,” says the mum from Kent.

Sadly these stories are not unique, which is why Unicef is calling on the UK government to commit to a ‘National Baby and Toddler Guarantee’.

The aim here is to ensure all families, no matter where they live, have access to vital services including: maternity, health visiting, mental health, affordable and high-quality childcare and special educational needs and disability (SEND) support.

The charity has penned a letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak and the UK government outlining this, and has backing from 80 leading charities, experts in early childhood development, and a whole host of celebrities including Andy Murray and Olivia Coleman.

It has also launched a ‘Baby Toddler Guarantee’ petition which has been signed by more than 48,000 members of the public.

Last year, Unicef UK polled parents of children aged 0-4 years and 66% said the cost of living crisis had negatively impacted them as they struggled to afford food, pay their bills and cope with increasing childcare costs.

To compensate, many said they were having to cut back on buying books, toys and other items for their children.

The charity said basic support services can offer “a vital lifeline to parents at this crucial time in their children’s lives - especially when they’re struggling financially.”

The letter to the prime minister reads: “We know that with reduced funds and prices rising, Local Authorities have been forced to make impossible choices.

“Across the country, children’s centres and childcare settings have closed their doors, health visiting appointments have been missed as staffing has reduced and caseloads increased, mental health support for parents and children is hard to come by, waiting lists are long and provision is patchy across the sector.

“The universal services that many new parents desperately need are not there for everyone.”

Jon Sparkes, Unicef UK’s chief executive, said: “Every child deserves a bright future, but as families recover from the impacts of the pandemic and face unprecedented rises in the cost of living, this future is under threat.

“Basic services like health visits and mental health care provide essential support that households need during these turbulent times.

“They should be there for every baby and young child during their vital early years, but across the country this isn’t the case and urgent action is needed.”

A government spokesperson told The Times: “We are taking action across the range of public services to support families and boost children’s life chances.”

They referenced the rollout of the expansion of free childcare, worth £6,500 a year for an average working family using 30 hours a week, and delivering a cost of living support package worth an average of £3,300 per household.

The spokesperson continued: “On top of this we are providing a holiday and activities food programme which is backed by £200 million per year to 2025, and expanding and transforming mental health services in England so that two million more people will be able to get the mental health support they need.”