A child’s experiences in early life have a massive impact on their later experiences, a groundbreaking international conference being held in Belfast heard today [29 May].
The event, hosted by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and held at Stormont, featured experts from the USA, Scotland and Northern Ireland, bringing the issue of early years to the heart of government.
The discussion examined how legislators, policymakers and practitioners can ensure that there is targeted, early support for babies and families, the effects of which can positively influence later life potential.
Dr Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive, PHA, commented: “Prevention is better than cure, and this is no less relevant when it comes to gearing children up for life. By ensuring that parents and carers have the right advice and support to help give their babies the best start, it can have a significant positive impact in later life.
“The evidence shared today highlights just how important it is for us as a society to ensure that children and families are helped from day one, and the presence at this conference of members of a range of Assembly Committees, as well as the Health Minister, indicates just how important this issue is.”
The event, which took place in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, was sponsored by Health Committee Chair Sue Ramsey MLA, with Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA among the speakers.
Fionnuala McAndrew, Director of Children and Executive Director for Social Work, HSCB, said: “We are delighted to host experts such as internationally-renowned child psychologist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, who has recently developed, with others, a pioneering documentary ‘The Connected Baby’ some of which was used at the conference.
“We are also very pleased that Karyn McCloskey, Co-Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, could join us to explain from a policing and justice perspective why we all need to be fundamentally concerned with early year’s intervention as a preventative approach.”
Health Minister Edwin Poots said: "Investment in children’s earliest years is essential in order to make a difference to achievements in later life. The benefits of more children having a positive start in life, and being properly equipped with the emotional and social skills they need in life, will mainly be seen in the longer term. These benefits will stretch beyond health to educational attainment, employment, and reducing numbers entering the criminal justice system.
The Minister continued: "The care provided by parents and the wider family circle gives young children the best possible foundation for a thriving future. All parents need support to a greater or less extent at some stage and it is important to ensure that all families receive universal services. Targeted services for those families that need additional support is also vital. Effective collaboration between between health, pre-school education, and services such as Sure Start is also essential to ensure early intervention when signs of psychological difficulties arise."
Sue Ramsey, Chairperson of the Assembly’s Health Committee said: “I am pleased to be able to lend my support to this important issue. We know that if a child has negative experiences it can continue to have an adverse effect on their health and lives for many years. These negative outcomes could be avoided by preventative measures and better investment in children’s services.
“The recently published Transforming Your Care report has highlighted the fact that, compared to England, Scotland and Wales, we are significantly under-investing in children’s services. As a Committee we believe that early intervention is key and we should be taking a multi-agency approach to delivering these services. Giving children the best start in life, engaging with young mothers - this approach will pay dividends for young people throughout their lives.”
Contact the PHA press office on 028 9055 3663
Notes to the editor
The event was co-sponsored by HSSPS Committee Deputy Chair Jim Wells MLA and Committee Member Sam Gardiner MLA.