Early Years Call to Action – parent and child groups

Please all take part by copying and pasting the email below.

Add your name and address at the bottom and copy in your own MP if you wish.

To: ministers@education.gov.uk

IMPORTANT – For DHSC: you need to fill in the form here:
Dear Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Education,
I am writing to you as a parent and member of campaign group UsforThem. We understand that the newly updated early years guidance explicitly prevents the majority of parent and child groups from running as support groups in the latest lockdown.
I not only disagree with this decision, but urgently request that you update this guidance so that early years providers are able to make their own decision as to whether or not their activity can reasonably be considered to be a support group that has to be delivered in person.
The updates to the guidance are particularly confusing given the reassurances Gavin Williamson has offered to the Early Years sector today. If, as evidence suggests, young children continue to be very low risk in terms of transmitting the virus, what is the rationale for depriving them and their parents of access to the varied and vital support informally offered through attending parent and child groups and activities?
As no single department has responsibility for overseeing parent and child groups, I accept that this decision may have been made without a full understanding of the ways in which many parent and child groups provide invaluable support to both parents and children. If this is the case, let me be clear: parents are in no doubt about the support that early years groups and activities provide, both for them as well as their children. This is even more true at a time when so many parents are experiencing a lack of face to face access to many formal sources of support – including baby weighing clinics, health visitor home visits and breastfeeding groups. In fact, your comment that breastfeeding support groups are permitted to continue during the lockdown is particularly meaningless given that La Leche League suspended all in-person support on 2nd November 2020. Research conducted by UsforThem also failed to identify a single example of where state-funded breastfeeding groups have restarted in person since their closure in March 2020.
With regards to children’s ongoing need for support – in a world where under 5s are already prevented from having access to so many developmental opportunities, it is unconscionable to remove the glimmer of hope offered by legal provision for support groups to continue during lockdown. The guidance explicitly excludes activities that provide ‘social or developmental’ support from examples of permitted support groups. Does this mean that the Government values social and developmental early years support as less vital than other types of support? Decades of research is clear on this – 90% of the adult brain grows between the ages 0-5. Healthy early years development needs support and 10 months of restrictions mean that this support is needed more than ever.
Vicky Ford and the Department of Education both confirmed that groups offering support to parents and children were allowed (and indeed encouraged) to continue in-person during the last lockdown. What has changed this time?
Whilst it is possible to see how some support groups could be delivered remotely, there is no evidence to suggest that this is appropriate or effective in providing early years support. WHO and NHS guidance for under 2s recommends no screen-time at all, with a limit of 1 hour a day for children aged 2-4. The Oxford Brooke’s BabyLab reported a 75% increase in screentime amongst babies and toddlers in the first lockdown.
Young children are already being disproportionately affected by the pandemic restrictions. It is unnecessary and cruel for you to issue guidance that effectively prevents the provision of vital support groups as otherwise permitted in law. Our children depend on you to represent their interests. Please take urgent action to rectify this Guidance.
Kind regards