Wellbeing in the early years: the urgent need for support

Friday 05 February 2021
Young boy yellow background

This Children’s Mental Health Week, we want to focus on a group often left out of conversations about mental health: the 0-5s

By supporting 369,204 users with our Parent Talk service through the pandemic, we’ve seen that Covid-19 has drastically changed everyday life, and the support available, for the youngest children and their parents.

The Royal Foundation’s recent research on the early years found that 37% of parents expect that the pandemic will negatively affect their long-term mental wellbeing. 90% of respondents also felt that the mental health and wellbeing of parents/carers has a great impact on children’s development. New evidence released this week from the #LittleGoodDeed campaign finds that 54% of parents of 0-5s have struggled to cope over the last month.

Wellbeing during the pandemic: new figures from Parent Talk

To understand more about the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of young children and their parents, we looked at data from Action for Children’s digital service Parent Talk.

Parent Talk provides information, advice and support for parents, on issues ranging from emotional wellbeing to children’s behaviour and learning. It also offers a one-to-one chat function, for parents to chat live with our expert Parenting Coaches. As our recent briefing showed, demand for Parent Talk has dramatically increased since March 2020.

  • The number of conversations about the mental health or emotional wellbeing of a child aged 0-5 increased by 127% in the first seven months of the pandemic (compared to the seven months before March 2020).
  • The number of conversations about the mental health or wellbeing of a parent of a child aged 0-5 increased by 356% in the first seven months of the pandemic (compared to the seven months before March 2020).

Clearly, the pressures of the pandemic have only added to the urgent need for mental health support for young children and their parents.

What can be done to help?

Before the pandemic, mental health needs could be picked up by health visitors, or through services offered at children’s centres or family hubs. Health visitors are uniquely placed to identify issues facing families. Universal community services allow parents to build trusting relationships with practitioners and disclose any problems.

But throughout months of restrictions, it has been challenging for parents to access the support they normally would. Children’s centre and family hub services moved online for many months. ‘Babies in Lockdown’ found that just 11% of parents of under-2s saw a health visitor face-to-face during the first lockdown.

In the recovery from the pandemic, acting early to help children will be more important than ever. Government must act urgently to ensure that: