It is time for Nick Clegg to bridge the early intervention gap and act like a real family man, writes Family Action’s Anthony McCaul.
Anthony McCaul is the senior media and campaigns officer for the charity Family Action
Nick Clegg was on good form yesterday talking about social mobility. On paper, the pupil premium weighs in at a hefty sum for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people in school.
It is right there should be more scrutiny to make sure schools spend money where it is needed – to improve educational attainment and close the mobility gap. However, we share concerns Clegg is behind the times.
Intervening at school is vital to turning round the lives of troubled families and children, but to really make a difference to future generations we need to see genuine early intervention services which target mothers at risk of depression during and up to a year after the birth of their baby.
Both Frank Field MP and Graham Allen MP in their reviews on life chances and early intervention agree that early years is crucial to setting families and children on the right path; they get a gold star for the focus their work has brought to this area.
• Can Clegg deliver on his social mobility pledges? 21 Sep 2011
• Does social mobility reduce income inequality? 14 Mar 2011
Family Action provides an innovative Perinatal Support Service in four locations across England including Hackney, Swaffham in Norfolk, Oxford and West Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. We’ve used the experience of the parents who use this service as well as research to chart the difficulties new families face.
Volunteer befreinders support mums at risk of perinatal depression by reducing social isolation and providing a listening ear as well as helping vulnerable mothers and babies access universal services like children’s centres.
The key findings of our Mind the Gap report (pdf) paint a stark picture for babies growing up in bust Britain – life for new and expectant parents is tougher than ever before as welfare cuts and poor quality housing impact on low income mothers’ state of mind and their ability to bond with their babies.
Our research shows poor maternal mental health and low income during babyhood damage children’s outcomes and are factors in the creation of “Troubled Families”.
Whilst it is all well and good trying to narrow the social mobility gap in schools, true early intervention that will transform social mobility must mean intervening before at risk babies are born, and providing services which support vulnerable mothers emotionally and with parenting as well as financial support.
Services targeted at new and at-risk mothers such as the Family Nurse Partnership and the extension of the health visiting programme are important but will not meet the needs of all mothers. They’ll also only have a limited impact on the well-being and parenting of low income mothers and outcomes for their children if adequate support from the welfare system is not also accessed by these mothers.
We’ve highlighted before that cash counts and we know from speaking to mothers and volunteer befrienders who use our service that family finances and welfare reform will have a negative impact on maternal mental health. The worsening of perinatal depression owing to financial pressures is damaging to the mental health of mothers-to-be and new mothers, and their ability to relate to their baby and existing children emotionally.
New mothers are in the firing line. Cuts happening now mean it has never been more difficult to provide home and money for their new baby.
Sure Start Maternity grants have been slashed; local housing allowance restrictions mean poor housing is impacting terribly on new mothers social isolation; and changes to working tax credits mean some families could lose up to £20 per week when parents return to work.
The benefit cap could hammer finances further.
So for Nick Clegg to truly make a difference to social mobility we think he needs to mind the early intervention gap and protect the family finances of new mothers. But to provide a holistic approach which will support and empower vulnerable new mothers he also needs to ensure real early intervention services are available too.
New mothers are making a difference for their children against all odds; it is time for the deputy prime minister to bridge the early intervention gap and act like a real family man.
To coincide with the new report, Family Action has launched the next stage of their Against All Odds campaign which calls for more services which combine emotional support with practical advocacy as well as action by government to improve and protect welfare support to this vulnerable group – join the campaign online using the hashtag #mindthegap