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Adopting a Public Health Approach to Supporting Parents Can Help Give Children Best Start in Life

Published: 14 March 2023

A new report published today by Public Health Wales’s First 1000 Days Programme describes how parents, communities and wider society can work together to give children in Wales the best start in life.

The report brings together current theory, research evidence and insight into the experience of parents and professionals in Wales. It highlights the central role parents have in shaping their children’s lives in the first 1000 days and how action to support parents to thrive in their parenting role has the potential to break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and support the wellbeing of future generations.

Parenting plays a key role in influencing children’s current and future wellbeing and the report outlines a public health approach to supporting parents that shifts the focus from what individual parents ‘should do’ towards creating the conditions for families to flourish. It highlights how the places in which parents live, work and socialise influence how parents think and feel, and what they are able to do. A society that supports parenting offers good fair work; homes that are safe and warm; affordable transport; strong communities; and easy access to supportive services when they are needed.

Amy McNaughton, Consultant in Public Health at Public Health Wales, said:

“Parenting is not easy and it is harder if you don’t have the things you need or are constantly worrying about making ends meet. There are unfair differences in the resources and support that parents have and the circumstances they face. Parenting knowledge and skills play a part but, to support parents to give their child the best start in life, system wide action is needed.”

The report also describes how good mental health and social support act as buffers, helping parents manage challenges and minimise impact for their children.

Key recommendations include:

  • Adoption of inclusive, family centred approaches to local and national policy development to identify and minimise any negative impacts for families.
  • A common set of system wide indicators are required to better evidence and understand the impact of adopting a public health approach to supporting parents.
  • Health visiting and midwifery services, as the universal support services in the first 1000 days, are uniquely placed to systematically assess families’ needs and facilitate early access to a broad range of support
  • Continuity of care is critical to the development of trusting relationships necessary for effective family support.
  • Consistent, high quality, evidence based parenting information and support should be available to all families, with targeted support available where additional needs are identified.
  • Identify and address gaps in the provision of support to help families manage common family stressors such as relationship problems, debt and housing.

‘First 1000 Days: A Public Health Approach to Supporting Parents, summary report’ is part of a series of work that aims to encourage and support system wide action to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities during pregnancy and up to a child’s second birthday. This is a critical period of rapid development where the foundations for future health wellbeing and life chances are laid.