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22 October 2021

The Early Years Report

The first of four reports created for the Children's Alliance on the state of children's health and wellbeing in the UK today, focusing on the early years

Using the most up-to-date references, the Report presents the current picture of family life post-Covid across a range of child wellbeing indicators and shows that:

  • The impact of poor nutrition and access to a healthy diet is one of the primary elements to sabotage children’s paths to lifelong health and wellbeing. Mandatory food and drink standards for Early Years settings should be recognised in the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework together with a national strategy to improve preconception, pregnancy and postnatal diets and the feeding of infants and young children.
  • Poor diet is a major factor influencing children’s oral health with 23.5% of 5 year olds in England experiencing dental decay. Those from the most deprived areas are affected to the greatest extent. Dental care and oral health should be included in all prenatal, perinatal and postnatal programmes with a national strategy to prioritise early identification of children at high risk of caries and population-based public health measures including reduction in rates of smoking during pregnancy and promotion of infant feeding guidelines.
  • All babies should be screened for hearing loss no later than one month of age and a reformed ‘2-year check’ criteria introduced with clear speech and language assessment to enable early identification of children needing support. Support training in speech and language development should be embedded across all early years and primary initial teacher training (ITT) routes.
  • Policies should enable a positive mental health culture in the early years. A mental health and wellbeing policy should be mandatory for each early years setting and a mental health worker or play therapist employed to implement a strong wellbeing and resilience culture and assist individual children.
  • SEND children were disproportionately affected by the pandemic and specific training for early years practitioners is needed to support inclusive practice and to help children with SEND recover from gaps in their learning or support; in particular focusing on speech and language and physical development. Urgent investment must be made in reducing the backlog of health assessments for early years children enabling settings to offer the right support at the right time.
  • Early years settings can offer stability in the lives of children who have suffered from trauma, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or who are from migrant and asylum-seeking families. The Government should revise and update information available to local authorities, schools and early years settings concerning education provision and entitlement of children from refugee and migrant families; providing additional support to navigate the admissions process and offering a free school meal to all children regardless of the state of their family’s application to remain. All early years settings should have an Equality Policy specifying relationship-building with refugee parents; the presence of interpreters and the employment (where possible) of at least one assistant fluent in the refugees’ language. A comprehensive play strategy should be a core requirement for all early years settings.
  • Early years settings such as family hubs and children’s centres must be able to receive accreditation and recommendation by national and local government as childhood immunisation centres. The Government should organise a immunisation campaign with the responsibilities of the Vaccine Minister extended to encompass setting a strategy for widespread childhood disease immunisation take-up.
  • The Government should reaffirm the 2004 Government’s recognition that a ‘first class workforce is fundamental to excellent early years provision’; publishing a comprehensive plan to raise the entry qualification level, providing a training fund and ensuring access to continuing professional development in all settings with published remuneration scales to befit a professional workforce. Existing Children’s Centres and new provision such as Family Hubs should be evaluated; thereby guaranteeing that their services provide for the needs of all children with the decline in their number and service range reversed; especially in areas of disadvantage.

To read the report in full, click here.

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