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We want all parents to feel confident in helping their child to develop from the very first months onwards. Mothers and fathers know the joys of a baby’s first smile, first words, first steps. All these important achievements are encouraged by what parents do with their very young children: cuddling, singing, talking, playing, reading and all the other activities that fill a baby’s waking hours. Scientists are telling us more and more about brain development, and about the importance of early development and the attachment between parent and child for how well children flourish and learn. The Healthy Child Programme is there for all children, making sure they are developing well, keeping healthy and have regular contact with a health professional. Health visitors lead the Healthy Child Programme, offering parents advice and ideas about activities at home. Babies can also get excellent support for this early development at a nursery or childminder.
We want to ensure that every baby and young child has books available to enjoy with their family, so we are funding the charity Booktrust to give free books to young children. These books will be given to families with children aged six to 12 months and three to four years, by libraries, and health and education providers. Children’s centres will also give families a free book for children at 12 to 30 months. There will be books appropriate for children with additional needs.
We recognise the great value in fun and play during the foundation years. Many local and national organisations provide activities for young children and their families to join in from swimming, to arts and crafts, to playing outdoors. Community organisations and faith groups often run activities like parent and toddler groups, which can be a good way for mothers and fathers to meet other local parents and get to know their wider community. We want to encourage these sorts of local activities as they increase families’ sense of wellbeing, and give young children an early opportunity to make new friends and play together, and often to get exercise.
When a baby or child is ill, parents need speedy access to an expert health professional. Their GP will usually be the first point of contact and health visitors, as registered nurses, will know when a child needs to be seen and can advise parents on what to do if their child is ill. GPs provide a complete range of primary healthcare within the community and work with others, including midwives, health visitors, school nurses, child and adolescent mental health services and those working in children's centres, to make sure that each family gets the appropriate treatment and the information and advice to help them to stay as healthy as possible. The Healthy Child Programme is there for all children making sure they get the immunisations, tests and checks at the right age and have regular contact with a health professional.
We want children’s centres to continue to offer a wide range of opportunities as children grow, providing a welcoming place for families and communities. They can offer information and advice on finding local services such as childcare, early education, and health care. Many run stay and play sessions, where professionals will be on hand to help mothers and fathers, and other family members like grandparents, to feel confident in how they are supporting their child’s development. These can be a good way to meet other local families too. Many children’s centres’ services are free, but for some activities there may be a small charge.
Children's centres can help families to use a range of work-focused services in their community, working alongside Jobcentre Plus and local voluntary and community organisations. This can include learning or job opportunities, and advice on careers and benefits. Children’s centres often have volunteering opportunities for parents to share their skills and experiences with other parents.
Councils provide a network of local children’s centres, and have a legal duty to make sure that there are enough children’s centres and to provide a range of services for young children to meet local needs. They must also consult local families on any major changes to children’s centre provision. Fathers and mothers should be able to get information which tells them how much is being spent on their local children's centres and what difference they are making. They should have opportunities to say how they think their children's centre can be improvehd, for example through getting involved in an advisory board.
Children’s centres can give families extra help when they need it. Friendly, experienced and qualified staff will be on hand to support mothers and fathers in making choices and using services, including if a child has a special educational need or disability. If a family is facing particular difficulties, or their child has additional needs, they can speak to a children’s centre outreach and family support worker. The support worker will work alongside the health visiting team, social worker, and other health professionals, to give the family regular support over a period of time. They will use tried and tested approaches, which have been proven to help other families. For children with a disability, the centre may be able to offer information and support from specially trained Key Workers who work in partnership with parents and other services.
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A new website for parents which includes information and advice for families in the foundation years
4Children, the national charity all about children and families.
NHS-accredited information, videos, and interactive tools
Pregnancy and parenting website
Information about reading and free books for young children
Information for parents of twins, triplets or more during the first year
Information about early education, and special educational needs
Home-Start provides a unique service for families - recruiting and training volunteers to support parents with young children at home.