Becoming a parent can be an exciting yet challenging time. Helping new parents and babies adjust to this new situation can require a broad spectrum of physical, mental and social supports.
The Commission is pleased that the NSW parliament is turning the spotlight on the health and wellbeing of new parents and babies. The evidence is robust that promoting the mental health and wellbeing of families, and providing early and evidence-based interventions when developmental problems arise (physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioural) for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, is the most cost-effective way of building resilience in young people and preventing the development of mental illness later in life.
Studies have consistently shown that prevention and early intervention in the first five years is likely to save around $7 for every dollar spent. Importantly these savings not only accrue to health services but also to other government services and the community more generally. For example, studies have shown that early intervention in the first five years for children at risk leads to greater school retention in adolescence, less likelihood of engagement with juvenile justice, greater likelihood of employment as an adult and less likelihood of becoming dependent on social services. This is a whole of population intervention so that opportunities for a healthy contributing life are maximised.
The concept of interventions to support parents, families and infants over the first 1,000 days of the infant’s life (from conception up to two years old) is an internationally recognised approach to change life trajectories for children born into communities where positive life outcomes are not always achieved. The First 1000 Days Movement was begun internationally with a focus on reducing under nutrition. The model has been adapted for use in Australia with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Australia model is an indigenous-led initiative, which has been expanded beyond the original focus on nutrition to include comprehensive primary health care with a case management approach.
Such community based approaches to support resilience and wellbeing from the earliest age are supported by the Commission, especially when we know that 50% of mental health problems will start by the mid to late teens. Growing up strong within resilient families and communities is essential, as is the need for supports to be provided appropriate to the age and stage of the child and their family development.
There are specific areas of disadvantage or challenge in relation to health outcomes for babies, which directly impact the way in which services should be delivered. This submission focuses on two areas in particular, trauma and parental substance use.
As with so many areas, coordinated service delivery is essential for improving the physical, mental and social outcomes for new parents and babies. This submission identifies some core elements for achieving better service coordination.