Yesterday I was invited to attend a seminar at the House of Commons (Portcullis House) organised by 1001 Critical Days and Foundation Years Information and Research as a joint programme: Seizing the day to improve the nurture of our youngest children. It was also a day in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of UNCRC (United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child).
Having been a member of Doula UK since 2002 and focusing much of my work on supporting women and families as a birth and postnatal doula, my feelings are that the next step for Doula UK is to grab a seat at the table with all the other organisations that are as passionate as we are about the way children arrive into this world and supporting families in the postnatal period and beyond.
The opening speech was by Dame Tessa Jowell MP who spoke about her own experiences of working with young children and how “just enough” stability from someone that loved them would help with establishing a sense of worth. The impact and importance of the first 1001 days, from conception to the age of two, has such a wealth of evidence behind it and yet not enough is being done to improve this time in a person’s life. Dame Tessa Jowell explained how Sure Start, which she was part of developing was meant to be a Early Nurture Programme and she would like to see more emphases put back on this.
The next speaker was Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green who spoke passionately about this formative time in a child life, throwing plenty of ‘hand grenades’ at the politicians. Having just returned from Finland “the promised land” as he called it, he has seen how a country can form it’s policies around supporting families. Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green had also seen in Canada many local initiatives to educate children from the age of 7 about what it takes to become parents. Canada has also focused a lot on the brain damage caused by pregnant women drinking alcohol and how prevention and support would have a huge impact on society as a whole. They have also developed a way of mapping all the children in an area and create a community of nurturative assets who will offer support and solutions for the families that need it. Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green also identified 7 obstacles that stand in our way to make the necessary changes happen and they were:
The last speaker was Dr Gabriella Conti who delivered a wealth of studies and research showing again and again how important attachment and bonding is for children during their early life. Just like Harlow’s experiment with Rhesus Monkeys, Dr Gabriella Conti showed her own research on Primate evidence on the late health effects of early-life adversity. She followed on from this rather depressing evidence with some positive studies that have shown that early interventions can make a difference and mentioned studies such as The Carolina Abecedarian Program and The Perry Pre-school Program. Dr Gabriella Conti also spoke about the Nurse Family Partnership which has resulted in the trial over her in the UK of The Family Nurse Partnership. All these studies and early interventions look very interesting and there is even a 50 year ongoing study in Italy named The Reggio Approach which seems absolutely amazing. Dr Gabriella left us with three action points:
When the speakers had finished, we continued with questions and observations from the audience and it was interesting to hear the discussions that followed. There were comments made about the room being filled with a majority of women and how the low pay in the caring profession doesn't attract enough men. The need for more midwives were mentioned and the fact that they don’t have enough time to provide the care that they trained for and want to give to the women they support. It was also expressed by many that we need to look more at the baby’s needs and educate women and their partners on what life is like with a newborn baby. Many different professionals shared their solutions to many of the problems, usually based on their own professional opinions. As it was my first time at this kind of event, I was happy to observe and take it all in.
I had to sneak out as Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green closed the seminar to avoid missing my train home but I found the afternoon most interesting. I also saw a lot of the seven obstacles alive and kicking that had been presented at the beginning. I believe there is still a lot of work to be done and a willingness for us each to critically think of these obstacles and be honest with ourselves and our actions. Women and their families should always be the focus and how we can best serve them, not our own professional importance of making a difference.
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.