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This blog post was published under the 2010-2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A healthy start for all our children - Introductory message by Viv Bennett

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Viv portrait ‘A healthy start for all our children’ is vital for a health and thriving future society. All the evidence shows us that what happens in early childhood and the developing years, impacts on health and well-being and life chances throughout the life course. Supporting parents, children, young people and communities is an investment in individual futures and that of society as a whole. Healthcare professionals have a significant role in leading and providing care and support and I am delighted that during this week we can share, learn and celebrate these contributions. Some examples include:

  • Since 2010, with the introduction of the Health Visitor Programme, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of health visitors and a transformed health visitor service, which has increased the number of families visited during the vital antenatal period and seen an increased coverage for 2 ½ year reviews. Health visitors have also been empowered to gain additional skills and created national champions in priority areas such as domestic violence and abuse and maternal mental health.
  • We have also seen great strides made to transform school nursing services through a national programme using best evidence and by listening to parents, children and young people.
  • From midwives supporting mothers-to-be, to physiotherapists encouraging more active lifestyle choices, there are healthcare practitioners everywhere putting children and young people at the heart of what they do.

During our week of action we will showcase some of the excellent work being done, share information, hear from parents and young people and connect with frontline services. My own diary for the week will see me visiting some local health visiting services, attending the Chief Medical Officer’s Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Board, presenting to a parliamentary group on integrated health for children’s services, attending a young carers’ celebratory event and joining the odd Twitterchat!

As with previous weeks of action I am grateful for the support of a number of organisations and journals who are spreading the word, making contributions and joining the celebration. We will signpost you to their resources and contributions during the week and we will be publishing a number of articles and blogs under our 5 themes and here is an overview to give you a taste of some of the areas we will be addressing:

Monday, 17th Nov - Helping Families, Children and Young People to be Emotionally Strong and Resilient

Building emotional resilience and well-being in childhood is essential in enabling young people to grow and develop to live a full, healthy and happy life. Midwives, health visitors, school nurses, dieticians, and many other healthcare practitioners, can help support families and children and young people at key stages of their emotional development. This could be from spotting and supporting mothers with mental health issues, encouraging breastfeeding (whose benefits include improved emotional well-being), helping parents to bond with their child, assisting a young person to cope with the trials of adolescence and school life or supporting the more vulnerable, such as asylum seeker families. We have blogs and articles on infant mental health, supporting mothers through difficult times, the importance of breastfeeding, supporting military families, eating disorders and much more. This week is also Anti-Bullying Week where we can also make a big difference so show your support by Tweeting #AntiBullyingWeek

Tuesday, 18th Nov - Supporting Families, Children and Young People to Protect Their Health

Since the first vaccines were developed the impact on children and young people’s health and well-being has been colossal and protection and prevention is as important today as it has ever been. Health practitioners’ role in promoting and delivering immunisations is fundamental, as is their role in combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR) through infection control, education and appropriate prescribing. In other areas such as oral health, health visitors or school nurses can encourage good habits and prevent tooth decay which is the biggest cause of admissions to hospital in young children. We have blogs and articles on childhood flu immunisation, the importance of immunisation during pregnancy, reducing the risk of HIV transmission from mother to baby, children and young people’s oral health, reducing SIDs and much more. This day is also European Antibiotic Awareness Day so we would encourage you all to make a pledge as part of the Antibiotic Guardian Campaign pledge and Tweet #EAAD2014

Wednesday, 19th Nov - Helping Families, Children and Young People to Look After Their Health

Helping young children explore the world whilst remaining safe is a major issue for parents and health visitors play a  role in working to create safe communities and in advising families on home safety and equipment. School nurses help support young people to understand a range of risks that impact on health and how to make informed choices. We have blogs and articles on managing minor illness, reducing accident and hospital admissions, promoting physical activity, the signs and symptoms of bladder and bowel problems in children and much more

Thursday, 20th Nov - Supporting Families, Children and Young People to Have a Voice and to be in Control of Their Well-Being

Relationships between healthcare practitioners and people using services are changing. People have access to information and, increasingly, access to their own and family’s health records. People also want more say in how, where and when services are provided. Communities are now ‘virtual communities’ of interest as well as places. Healthcare practitioners are using a range of resources to support families and young people to manage their own health and well-being. We have blogs and articles on what children say they need, a parent’s experiences of care, helping disabled children prepare for school, what works when engaging with children and young people, supporting parent to be the best they can, supporting teenage parents and much more.

Friday, 21st Nov - Helping Children and Young People to Learn and Grow

Evidence shows that early years are vital to future learning. We know that supporting parents of 2yr olds and identifying children who need more help is important to help children to be ready for school. And we know that where children have special needs through illness and disability support from a range of professionals to help children reach their potential is vital. We have blogs and articles on the 2yr review, supporting children to be active, adolescence as a life stage for early intervention and much more and we be launching a revised Framework for Personalised Care and Population Health with a new section on getting it right for 2 year olds.

Thank you and I hope you enjoy the week.


Viv Bennett

Director of Nursing at the Department of Health and Public Health England

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  1. Comment by Professor Mary Nolan posted on

    The focus on families with young children is indeed critical, and I welcome the range of strategies for doing this that the Director for Nursing outlines and supports. However, the reference to the ‘vital antenatal period’ seems perfunctory and there is no mention at all of the importance of antenatal and postnatal education for early parenthood. If we want to make a difference to parents at ‘key stages of their emotional development’, then pregnancy is the time to do this! Pregnancy has been generally recognised as ‘a teachable moment’ and offers a unique opportunity for promoting maternal and paternal mental health (and therefore, infant mental health) and supporting a positive, responsible relationship with the unborn, soon to be newborn, baby. We have robust, targeted parent education programmes (e.g. Family-Nurse Partnership; Partners becoming Parents; Mellow Parenting) as well as a Department of Health endorsed, evidence-based, universal antenatal education programme, ‘Preparation for Birth and Beyond’. If we’re really interested in early intervention, let’s ensure that, as in the Scandinavian countries whose health and social services are generally admired, every mum and dad-to-be in the UK can access antenatal education delivered by professionals who are committed to it, and have been trained in the necessary skills to deliver it.