The Andrea Leadsom review: A fresh direction for the early years?

Monday 29 March 2021
Baby in the arms of its parents

Action for Children welcomes new vision paper for the first 1,001 days of life, while calling for action to turn vision into reality.

Action for Children runs over 70 children’s centres and family hubs across the country.

These services play an essential role for the youngest children and their parents. They help us to spot problems facing families early. They support child development. And, they are ideally placed to help close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

With the pressures put on families by the pandemic, the need for government commitment to these vital services is more urgent than ever.

Published on 25th March, Andrea Leadsom’s vision paper for reducing inequalities in the first 1,001 days marks a turning point. It is an opportunity to reinvigorate focus on the critical early years of life.

Family hubs should be a central part of every community

This review paper highlights what we've known for years: that every community needs a warm, welcoming, non-judgemental environment for families at its centre. We welcome the review’s commitment to make universal and targeted Start for Life services a core offer within every family hub.

Early years support must also ensure the best possible outcomes for families. The ongoing suspension of Ofsted children’s centre inspections has been a real concern. We’re pleased to see the review commits to better regulation. It reflects our ongoing call for an outcomes framework for services for the youngest children.

We need strong leadership to make this happen

As the review notes, responsibility for our youngest children is currently fragmented across 11 ministerial profiles and five government departments. It’s no wonder there's been a lack of clear direction and ambition in this area.

We have repeatedly called for government to provide high-level leadership to drive progress for the early years. So, we’re happy to see the review paper’s commitment to a Cabinet Minister overseeing the Start for Life system. We hope this position is assigned quickly, to drive momentum for the recommendations from the highest level.

It’s right to keep listening to families

The best people to ask for advice on support for families are families themselves.

We hosted a virtual visit for Leadsom and her review team to one our Devon children’s centres in November 2020. There, the team was able to speak with parents about their experiences of services in the first 1,001 days.

We’re glad to see the vision paper propose creating Parent and Carer Panels in every local area. This would to allow parents to co-design and feed back on the services they receive.

What should happen now?

As Leadsom highlighted, the challenge now is to secure investment for these recommendations. Local authority spending on children’s centres fell by 64% between 2010/11 and 2018/19. The health visitor workforce plummeted from 10,309 in October 2015 to 6,653 by December 2020. Leadsom’s ambitions for families cannot be realised without sustainable funding commitments. These must come in this year’s Spending Review,

It will be essential for government work in this area to be truly integrated. For example, a core Start for Life offer within family hubs demands close cooperation between the Departments for Education and Health. Responsibility for the youngest children must no longer fall into the gaps. The cross-government Start for Life team must make sure of this.

This year is a critical juncture for the future of early years support in England. Leadsom’s vision is ambitious, wide-reaching and long-awaited. The question now is whether government will provide the leadership and resources to turn vision into reality.

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