Charity criticises lack of parent-infant mental health teams

Parent and child

Local councils believe around 20,000 babies in England are in need as a result of risks in the parental home. Photograph: Alamy

Families whose young children are at risk of developing mental health problems because the parents are struggling face a “shocking” lack of help from the NHS, a report says.

The charity Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK found that only a handful of health service bodies across the UK had a specialist parent-infant relationship team to help children in households where there was domestic violence, substance misuse or a parent who was mentally ill.

It said the absence of dedicated support for such families was “a source of disgrace”.

PIP has established there are just 27 specialist teams across more than 200 local NHS bodies in the UK.

Local councils believe around 20,000 babies in England alone are in need as a result of risks they face in the parental home.

PIP’s report says: “Parents-infant teams can transform the life chances of babies, yet the majority of babies live in an area where these services do not exist.”

The teams work with parents to help them develop loving, supportive relationships with their offspring at a time when babies are undergoing a vital period of brain development.

The Conservative MP Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, backed the report’s findings and its call for the NHS to instigate an expansion of such teams.

“Parent-infant relationships are vital for children’s development. Parent-infant teams can enable all services in a local area to support these relationships better, as well as providing world-class therapeutic interventions for families who are struggling the most,” he said.

The report says NHS bodies that commission child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) “are overlooking the needs of the youngest children in their own right. In some areas commissioners do not commission any mental health services for young children.”

PIP found that CAMHS teams in 42% of clinical commissioning group areas of England do not accept referrals for children aged two or under. In more than a third (36%) of the CCG areas where CAMHS did accept such referrals, no children that age were accessing care.

“The statistics uncovered for this report are shocking and should be a source of disgrace, just as it would be if services excluded children because of other characteristics such as disability, race or sex, or if commissioners were failing to fund other services such as cancer services for young children,” the report says.

There are no figures for how many children aged two and under have any sort of mental health problem because children that age are too young to be diagnosed with a mental illness.

However, an in-depth study of children’s mental health published by NHS Digital last November said one in 18 children of pre-school age in England had at least one mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression.

The findings were the first to try to quantify the extent of such problems in under-fives. Overall., 11.2% of five- to 15-year-olds and 12.8% of five- to 19-year-olds have a mental health disorder, according to NHS Digital.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS long-term plan clearly recognises the importance of early years care and is committed to creating a comprehensive, joined-up mental health service for nought to 25-year-olds, as well as ramping up specialist perinatal services to cover the first two years of a child’s life.

“While support for parents and carers to ensure babies and infants develop physically and mentally comes from a range of professionals including GPs, community paediatricians, health visitors and children’s services, we also need other partners such as local authorities to do their bit by investing in services.”