The Health & Wellbeing of Children in the Early Years: This is the first of four reports setting out a practical plan for action by Government to reverse the serious decline in the health and wellbeing of our children and young people

Children's Alliance

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


Giving children the best start in life is by far the most effective way to address health inequalities in the long term.
The wisest investment we can make to achieve the goal of a healthier population is during the first 1001 critical days of a child’s life. Good nutrition and safe environments supported by nurturing early relationships are the essential components of children’s cognitive, emotional and physical development. The importance of this age-range is acknowledged by the World Health Organisation’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative and in England, both the NHS Long Term Plan and Public Health England’s 2016 guidance on ‘Giving every child the best
start in life’.
Covid-19 is having a continuing impact on babies born before and during the pandemic and children in the early years. The impact has been unequal for children, with a disproportionate number of BAME families, those living with poverty and children with SEND facing the greatest challenges.
Parents and carers had less face-to-face interaction with health professionals and early years settings and studies reported families found it harder to stay active and access healthy food choices. In the UK, 14% of families with children experienced food insecurity during the first six months of the pandemic as opposed to 11.5% beforehand. There are
now widespread and burgeoning concerns that Covid-19 has exacerbated nutritional problems linked to food insecurity including obesity, under-nourishment, nutrient deficiencies and mental health problems such as anxiety, low self-worth, and depression.
Children have been subjected to violence and abuse at home as a corollary of lockdown whether as direct recipients or helpless observers. We are now reeling in the aftermath of such challenges as children’s emotional well-being and education faltered, instead of thriving. Children need to be put at the heart of any recovery plans to ensure Covid-19 is not the legacy of their future outcomes. It is probable that the true impact of the pandemic may not become clear for many years.
Schools are already reporting an increasing number of their pupils requiring extra support with language and communication and personal social and emotional development.
Early years settings were the one constant in the lives of young children providing a stable and safe space during Covid-19. They continue to play a central role in supporting parents, carers and young children in establishing lifelong healthy eating habits. Good quality early education has a positive impact on young children’s development and safe, excellent childcare enables parents and carers to work, while their children have the opportunity to interact with other children and be enriched by new challenges and experiences within a
safe space. Nursery settings support children’s care and development from birth to five years and are a vital source of information, guidance and support for parents, carers and families. Early years providers continued to provide this support throughout the pandemic yet Covid-19 has impacted greatly on early years providers with over 2000 settings closing between January and May 2021. Staff from early years settings are at the 6forefront of providing support for our youngest children yet it is a resource that remains underfunded. There is a clear need to ensure training requirements for the early years’ workforce supports them to achieve the requirements set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework. Children, families and the early years’ work force need to be at the heart of a national strategy to ensure children can enter adulthood with improved health and wellbeing outcomes. The recommendations that form this report highlight that we are already falling short of meeting children’s minimum requirements for nutrition, immunisation, education and emotional support.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages52
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2021


  • Early years, health, wellbeing

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