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How can I help address inequalities support mental health and wellbeing in the early years?

Good parental, infant and child mental health is dependant on many the same key factors that lie at the heart of positive parenting and that support good growth, speech, language and communication development.

Interventions that promote social, emotional and cognitive development include:

  • Pre and postnatal home visiting of vulnerable children and their families, led by suitably skilled health professionals, (e.g. Family Nurse Partnership (external link)).
  • High quality early years childcare and education, (e.g. children's centres - Sure Start).
  • Enhanced specialist group-based parenting programmes that have been shown to be effective for secondary and tertiary prevention, (e.g. Triple P, Incredible Years).

(The Early Years Collaborative 2013: Guidance about Effective Interventions to Support Parents, Their Infants and Children in the Early Years (PDF download - 238KB)).

For more on parenting and on growth and development, please see our sections on:

Key messages for parents, grandparents and other care-givers

Those who care for children can be supported to look after their own mental health and wellbeing and that of their children through promotion of the following key messages:

  • All parents and caregivers should look after their own mental health and seek help early for any difficulties.
  • Tips and guidance on promoting mental wellbeing and tackling common problems can be accessed on the Steps for Stress website (external link).
  • Parents can help their child feel secure by reacting positively to 'attention seeking' behaviours - see advice in our section on parenting and inequalities in 0-3s.
  • Parents should have fun with their child and play, talk and read with them daily - see advice in our sections on play@home and speech, language and communication development.
  • Parents having difficulties with their mental wellbeing or who are worried about child growth and development, should seek help early and speak to their Midwife, health visitor or GP.
  • For information and details of local support, parents can visit Parenting Across Scotland (external link) or call ParentLine Scotland on 0800 028 2233.

Please also see below for further resources.

Midwives, GPs and health visitors

Midwives, GPs and health visitors are ideally placed to develop trusting, respectful communicative relationships with parents of the type research has shown they most value.

In the period around and after birth, health professionals involved in the care of mothers and their children should work together to assess risk and monitor mental wellbeing in accordance with SIGN Guideline 127: Management of Perinatal Mood Disorders (external link).

In addition to promoting the key messages for parents, grandparents and other care-givers, health professionals should continue to:

  • consider the wider circumstances of the family - e.g. give assistance to link to services that help with income maximisation of poor families or that can improve housing circumstances
  • maintain a focus on interventions that help develop secure attachment and sensitive interaction between parents and their children
  • encourage parents to play with and talk to their children while at eye level with them
  • ensure that fathers are equally consulted and informed in matters concerning the health, development and wellbeing of their children (except where precluded by child protection concerns).

Social workers

In addition to promoting the key messages for parents, grandparents and other care-givers, social workers should:

  • consider the wider circumstances of the family - e.g. give assistance to link to services that help with income maximisation of poor families or that can improve housing circumstances
  • be alert to sudden changes in maternal mood and behaviour and refer to specialist services
  • offer support to access services and be ready with details of sources of local support
  • maintain a focus on interventions that help develop secure attachment and sensitive interaction between parents and their children
  • encourage parents to play with and talk to their children while at eye level with them
  • ensure that fathers are equally consulted and informed in matters concerning the health, development and wellbeing of their children (except where precluded by child protection concerns).

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Nursery and pre-school staff

Good quality nursery and pre-school education helps prepare children for school and assists with their cognitive and social development.

Nursery and pre-school staff should:

  • offer a developmentally appropriate curriculum based on child-initiated activities
  • be knowledgeable in early childhood development and receive receive ongoing training and supervision
  • limit class sizes to fewer than 20 three- to five-year- olds with at least two teachers
  • involve parents in their child’s education wherever possible (for example, through involvement in fun-days, parent evenings and by aligning activities to play@home books provided to parents)
  • be sensitive to the non-educational needs of the child and family
  • use developmentally appropriate evaluation procedures.

For more detailed recommendations, please consult the NHS Health Scotland paper Mentally healthy infants, children and young people: Principles for effective interventions briefing paper for service managers and planners (external link).

Teachers

Effective whole school approaches to mental, emotional and social wellbeing include:

  • creating an ethos and conditions that support positive behaviours for learning and for successful relationships
  • providing an emotionally secure and safe environment that prevents any form of bullying or violence
  • supporting all pupils and, where appropriate, their parents or carers
  • providing specific help for those children most at risk (or already showing signs) of social, emotional and behavioural problems
  • offering teachers and practitioners in schools training and support in how to develop children’s social, emotional and psychological wellbeing
  • supporting staff mental health and wellbeing, both in the direct interests of the staff and to help them be better able to help in the development of children's social and emotional wellbeing
  • developing coordinated mechanisms to ensure schools access the skills, advice and support needed to deliver a comprehensive and effective programme that develops children’s social and emotional skills and wellbeing.

More detailed recommendations for schools can be found in the Health Scotland paper Mentally healthy infants, children and young people: Principles for effective interventions briefing paper for service managers and planners (external link).

Service managers and commissioners

Service managers and commissioners can:

  • ensure that staff who have contact with parents have the time to explain any advice or information given
  • provide continuing professional development opportunities for staff to encourage and assist them to provide more personalised information and support in ways that parents understand and appreciate
  • provide CPD training for professionals and practitioners around meeting the needs of young mothers
  • provide training and support that encourages mutual understanding, respect and effective two-way communication between parents and professionals
  • ensure services are accessible to all, relevant to vulnerable families and consistent with public sector policy commitments
  • ensure campaigns and information on services are accessible to those with a range of communication support needs.

Voluntary sector workers and managers

In addition to promoting the key messages for parents, grandparents and other care-givers, voluntary sector workers and managers can:

  • maintain a focus on interventions that help develop secure attachment and sensitive interaction between parents and their children
  • encourage parents to play with and talk to their children while at eye level with them
  • provide space and opportunities for interactive play
  • encourage use of the 'Teach-Back Technique' to help ensure important information has been adequately understood: Teach-Back Technique Postcard (Download PDF - 360kb)
  • seek and provide continuing professional development opportunities for staff to encourage and assist them to provide more personalised information and support in ways that parents understand and appreciate
  • seek out and provide training and support that encourages mutual understanding, respect and effective two-way communication between parents and professionals.

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