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Giving children the best start possible

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We know that one of the most important things we can do to build a healthy population is to give our children the best possible start. In the words of the black American social reformer Frederick Douglass, 'It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.'

One of PHE's national priorities is ensuring that every child has the best start in life. The aim is to increase the proportion of children 'ready to learn at two and ready for school at five'. There is a strong evidence base for early years universal health services supporting parents and providing early intervention where there are problems.

Many primary and community care professionals have responsibilities in providing care to parents and children. In order to support parents it is vital to understand how and where parents want to receive services and to learn from a families' experience of services received.

The national health visiting programme has gathered parents' views. Alongside the latest evidence this is underpinning the transformation of the health visiting service. It also has a wider interest and application to all who work with young children and their families.

In February, the DH showcased this work with a 'Week of Action' called 'Listening to parents, transforming services'. As the number of health visitors has increased, parents have reported that they value having increased contact, continuity and 'expert' support and advice on a range of topics, including infant feeding, immunisation and their child's development. Health visiting experts published blogs on topics such as the importance of Infant Mental Health and Early Intervention as part of the week of action.

The power of social media is also of interest. Using hashtags such as #healthvisiting, #ihvforum, and #cphvatt gave a grand total of 3,447 tweets reaching over 1 million accounts throughout the week of action. This reached parents, health visitors, other child health and primary care professionals and partner agencies. Parents told us that they liked to use social media, such as Facebook, to feedback about the service with suggestions for improvements.

The transformed health visiting service is summarised as 'HV 4 5 6' – a four level service model, five universal health reviews and six high impact areas. We will be sharing this and demonstrating how health visitors, their teams and others concerned with improving child health can measure improvements and outcomes in a second week at the beginning of March – do join us!

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