One in four babies in Britain is at risk of abuse because their home life is violent or their parents have mental health or drug problems, according to research by the NSPCC.
The charity found more than 198,000 UK babies (168,000 of whom live in England) could be at risk of harm or neglect because their families have complex, and often unmet, needs.
The biggest risk factor was found to be parental mental health problems, affecting 144,000 babies. More than 93,000 babies live with a parent who has alcohol problems, while 50,000 babies are growing up in homes where a parent has used drugs in the past year.
The new figures were released today as part of an NSPCC campaign, All Babies Count, to highlight the vulnerability of babies and their need for better and earlier support.
Chris Cuthbert, NSPCC head of strategy and development for children under one, said: “Babies under one are particularly vulnerable to the impact of early trauma and neglect – we know half of serious case reviews relate to this age group and two-thirds of SCRs into child deaths or abuse involve one or more of these risk factors.
“For the first time our research highlights the number of babies living in vulnerable homes. They and their families need early and effective support, but we are very concerned that a great deal more needs to be done to turn rhetoric into reality.”
The NSPCC plans to roll out a number of services to support new parents, including a parent education DVD, and also hopes to influence the government and commissioners.
“We all need to think about what we can do collectively to prevent infant mal-treatment. Prevention is key. We know initiatives like the Family Nurse Partnership are really effective, and produce big savings. The economics stack up but the investment is not being made yet,” he said.
The NSPCC is calling on the government to ensure resources are allocated towards family support services and commissioners are given the power and responsibility to ensure the right services are in place. The government should also review early intervention services available for families every two years, the charity said.
Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Investing in preventing harm is a more effective way of spending money than trying to pick up the pieces of children’s broken lives in the years after abuse has happened.
“We’re calling on the government to join us in focusing attention, resources and expertise to demonstrate that All Babies Count. The government’s focus on early intervention is welcome, but we now need action.”
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails