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Early Years Family Support

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire 3:51 pm, 16th July 2019

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Those who go on to become abusers in 20 years’ time will all too often be vulnerable babies who are themselves being abused today. The question that really matters is how we even start to tackle this issue.

Having had my own brief experience of post-natal depression, I can certainly attest to how difficult it can be to cope as a new parent. Colleagues might have heard me speak before about my own memory of sitting in my kitchen with a crying baby, in the middle of winter, with snow on the ground outside, looked at through dirty windows, feeling totally unable to call a window cleaner or even just to make a cup of tea. That feeling of helplessness and hopelessness is a vivid memory—and it is now 23 years on.

This is not my sob story, though: I was lucky enough to have a great husband, a strong network of support and a job to go back to, which snapped me out of it, but, thinking back, it could have been so much worse. Many parents who are struggling to cope are dealing with that reality each and every day. I really do understand how debilitating depression is and how unexpected and horrible the feelings are.

It was when my mum, herself a trained midwife and therapist, asked me to go along and help with a charity she was working with—the Oxford Parent Infant Project —that I realised just how vital secure attachment in those first years really is. After 10 years as chairman and a trustee of OXPIP, I went on to set up NorPIP, the Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership, into which my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis was dragged—although not kicking and screaming; she was delighted. I then set up PIPUK, the fabulous national charity that is setting up PIPs throughout the country to provide specialised parent-infant relationship support, including parent-infant psychotherapy, to families and their babies. PIPUK’s aim is not only to address the immediate problems in the relationship between the baby and their parent, but to support a more positive and secure attachment for the long term.

I brought my passion for early years with me to Westminster when I was elected in 2010. I have since met so many brilliant people in the world of infant and maternal mental health, some of whom are present in the Chamber today, and many more of whom are following proceedings on TV. So many people have generously given their time and expertise. In 2011, with support from colleagues from every political party currently represented in Parliament, I launched “The 1001 Critical Days” manifesto, which called for a rethink of how we approach early years intervention at a policy level.

I particularly recognise the early commitment of the right hon. Members for North Norfolk and for Birkenhead (Frank Field), and of Caroline Lucas, in getting the work off the ground. I pay special tribute to Lucy Powell for her dedication to the “The 1001 Critical Days” campaign. She and I promised each other years ago that we would remain committed to achieving real and long-lasting positive change. I am delighted that she is present. We can definitely achieve much through cross-party collaboration for the greater good, and this work is the perfect example of it.

“The 1001 Critical Days” campaign has received the support of more than 100 different organisations, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Barnardo’s, Best Beginnings, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. There are just too many esteemed charities, royal colleges and foundations for me to list here. I also had the pleasure of working closely with Dame Tessa Jowell on her interest in bringing early years support into the UNICEF millennium development goals.

With cross-party colleagues, we set up the all-party group for conception to age two. I wish to mention Mrs Hodgson, with whom I very much enjoyed working on the all-party parliamentary Sure Start group.