Babies may be at greater risk as health staff are redeployed to tackle Covid-19

Large numbers of staff from vital services that normally support parents are being redeployed, charities have warned Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Babies and their parents could be at greater risk as health visitors and perinatal mental health staff are being redeployed to help tackle the Covid-19 crisis, charities have warned.

Large numbers of staff from vital services that normally support parents and safeguard babies are being redeployed in some areas, according to mental health, family and children’s organisations.

More than 40 charities and professional bodies are calling on the Government to give urgent attention to young children and their parents to protect them from harm amid the outbreak.

The organisations, which form part of the First 1001 Days Movement, have warned of a “perfect storm” of increased risk and decreased support for babies and their parents as they say health visiting services, as well as mental health support, have been scaled back.

In some areas of England, as many as half of the health visitors have been redeployed to provide urgent medical care and other services, according to the coalition of charities.

Perinatal mental health and specialist parent-infant teams have also been transferred to other health services as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It comes at a time when the crisis is placing additional pressures on the mental health of parents with young children, the coalition said.

The joint statement, from charities including NSPCC and the National’s Children’s Bureau, said: “It has already been widely recognised that for some people, home is not a safe haven.

“Across the UK, there are babies and children in lockdown in poor quality and overcrowded housing, with shortages of basic supplies, cared for by parents under immense pressure.

“Babies, born and unborn, are particularly vulnerable to physical and emotional harm because they are at a critical stage in their development, are fragile, totally dependent on adults for their care, and unable to speak out or seek help.

“Therefore it is essential that Government is keeping their needs in mind.”

The coalition is calling on the Government to provide clear guidance on minimising the redeployment of staff from community services to ensure vulnerable families still receive vital support.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England said: “While thankfully babies and toddlers seem to be at lower risk of Covid-19 illness, we know that many are vulnerable to a host of secondary risks.

“Lockdown places additional pressures on parental mental health, family finances and relationships, and leaves families without their support networks.

“Families with vulnerable young children need help in caring for, bonding with and supporting the development of their babies and toddlers.”

Sally Hogg, coordinator of the First 1001 Days Movement, said: “Babies don’t have a voice. This is a time when they need someone to be speaking up for them, and championing their needs at the highest levels in Westminster and Whitehall.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:  “We are absolutely committed to supporting the mental wellbeing of families and children, especially during these extraordinary times.

“That’s why we’re ensuring our mental health services are adapting to best support families and children, and recently provided £5 million to leading mental health charities to help them expand and reach those most in need.

“Families and children should still feel able to contact their GP or CAMHS for support.”