Children’s experiences during the first 1,000 days lay the foundations for their whole future, a new report has found.
From preconception to age two, every aspect of a child’s world – including their parents’ and carers’ income, housing, neighbourhoods, social relationships, age and ethnic group – is already shaping their adult life.
In her latest report, Croydon’s Director for Public Health Rachel Flowers puts a spotlight on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life to demonstrate the effect early experiences can have.
She focuses on how Adverse Childhood Experiences can negatively impact on children as they grow up. Stressful and disruptive childhoods are significantly more likely to lead to health-harming and anti-social behaviours, performing poorly in school or being involved in crime. However, Ms Flowers emphasises that a trusted adult and other factors can help give children the resilience to thrive despite these challenging experiences.
Even before pregnancy, a mothers’ health not only influences the health of her children, but also her children’s children. The quality of a girl’s eggs in her ovaries can be affected by her own mother’s health.
Each of the 6,000 babies born in Croydon each year therefore represents past, present and future health, which is a key reason for this focus on health before pregnancy and the first 1,000 days. A baby’s development in the womb is dependent not just on the mother’s diet during pregnancy, but also on the stored nutrients and fats throughout her lifetime.
In 2015, almost one fifth (18.7%) of the borough’s children lived in poverty. This means more than a 1,000 babies born each year in Croydon may be touched by the effects of poverty during their early years. Girls born in more affluent areas of Croydon are expected to live six years more than their peers in other areas and for boys, the difference is over nine years.
Brain development starts just after conception and continues at a rapid pace through the first years of life when our brains grow the fastest. Talking, playing and singing are all simple activities that help make vital connections between brain cells. Stimulating environments and positive relationships with carers are critical in these first two years.
The report calls on everyone working with families and children to take action and make a difference to every child’s first 1,000 days by implementing three core principles:
• to understand their role and how best you can contribute to a child’s first 1,000 days.
• ensure good health is central in all policies.
• break the inequalities cycle by tackling the social and economic impacts on health.
Croydon Council is already working with its partners and local communities to positively provide the best possible first 1,000 days for all children, and beyond. For example, the council’s Gateway and Welfare Services offer financial and employment support and improved housing options through initiatives such as Community Connect, the Food Stop and food poverty reduction schemes.
Also through neighbourhood regeneration and increased use of parks and open spaces, which help people to maintain social connections.
The Family Nurse Partnership, Healthy Schools programme, Live Well Croydon programme, JustBe Croydon health website, youth engagement team projects and young people’s sexual health outreach focus on improving mental and physical health.
Rachel Flowers said: “These first 1,000 days for a child are fundamentally important because they lay the foundations for the rest of their lives. By prioritising health before pregnancy and increasing our understanding about what being healthy for pregnancy means, we can ensure that parents and communities are in the best possible position to bring Croydon’s children into the world.
“A healthy start in life gives each child an equal chance to thrive and grow into an adult who makes a positive contribution to the community. It is well documented that inequalities result in poor health, social, educational and economic outcomes across the whole of the life course and across generations. We all have a role to play in improving their transition from childhood to adolescence and into adult life and breaking cycles of inequalities where they exist.”
Tony Newman, Leader of Croydon Council, said: “The more we understand about the first 1,000 days of child’s life and what influences them at borough, community, locality, family and individual level, the more chance they will have to thrive equally.
“Croydon Council has placed prevention at the heart of all our work. We are working with our communities and partner organisations to ensure that children experience the best first 1,000 days. This is a key prevention activity that will enable us to change the future health of Croydon residents.”
Notes to editors:
All Directors of Public Health are required to produce an independent annual report on the health of their local population, highlighting key issues that impact on them.
This is Rachel Flower’s third report for Croydon and it will be presented at the council’s cabinet meeting on Monday 19 November at 6.30pm. The report draws on local data as well as wide ranging research including from WHO, UNICEF and other sources.