‘Baby blindspot’ in children and young people’s mental health provision, survey finds

A survey of professionals working in children and young people’s mental health has found “huge and concerning” gaps in mental health services for babies and toddlers.

08/06/21

‘Baby blindspot’ in children and young people’s mental health provision, survey finds

A new survey has found that infants and babies are often overlooked and neglected in children and young people’s mental health provision.

The survey, carried out by the Parent-Infant Foundation, has found “huge and concerning” in mental health services for babies and toddlers, adding that local services often do not even cater or accept referrals for babies and toddlers.

The survey was completed by almost 300 practitioners working in NHS infant, children and or young people’s mental health services (CAMHS) from a wide range of professions. It marks the start of Infant Mental Health Awareness Week running from 7 June – 13 June.

The charity has warned that leaving young children unsupported could have serious consequences later in their lives and create more demand for mental health services in future.

Fewer than one in ten (9%) respondents felt there was sufficient provision available for babies and toddlers whose mental health was ‘at risk’ in their area, with little more than a third (36%) reporting that the mental health services in their area can work effectively with babies and toddlers aged 0-2.

Half (52%) of those responding said their local NHS children and young people’s mental health service took referrals for children aged two and under, with many saying that, while this was the referral criteria on paper, in reality the service was not working with young children.

The survey results also underline disparities in training, understanding and confidence levels for the professionals in children and young people’s mental health services, the report says.

Almost a third (31%) of Mental Health Practitioners who did the survey feel they don’t understand infant mental health, rating their understanding as only 1 out of 5.

Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Campaigning at The Parent-Infant Foundation said the results confirm a ‘baby blindspot’ in mental health provision.

“It is clear from these new statistics, and our previous research, that there is a ‘baby blindspot’ and that infant mental health is frequently forgotten in children and young people’s mental health provision. The pandemic and lockdown have been traumatic for some families already experiencing many challenges so the need for specialised support is greater than ever.”

As a result of the survey, the foundation is calling for investment to increase provision of infant mental health services, as well as a drive to “hold NHS commissioners and providers to account” for offering mental health services for all children.

They are also urging for a workforce development strategy to ensure there are trained professionals with the specialised skills required to deliver these critical services.

“Wide ranging research indicates that mental wellbeing during the earliest years of life lays the foundations for later health and wellbeing,” Hogg said, adding: “Changing our language to talk about ‘infant, children and young people’s mental health’ is a simple but powerful way to drive change. We hope that Infant Mental Health Awareness Week can focus attention on what is needed to help all babies, especially those in the most need, to have the very best start to their lives.”

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