Putting infant mental health in the spotlight

We need to rethink our approach to the mental health needs of babies and young children in care, says Peter Wanless

InfantThe first few years of life are critical for brain development. Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of abuse and neglect. But they are also the most responsive to treatment. 

Babies and young children in care are some of the most vulnerable children in society. Many will already have had poor care, in the womb or during their first experiences of life.

Abuse and neglect can derail a young child’s development, but in order to prevent further damage, and help repair damage already done, babies need consistent, nurturing and secure relationships with their parents or carers. 


The need for more supportive services

There's hope of recovery for maltreated babies and young children in care, but the earlier this can happen the better.

Providing specialist support for both foster carers and birth parents can help to make sure babies and young children in care have stable and loving placements, undoing the neural damage caused by abuse and neglect in their early lives.  

Despite the evidence that shows the importance of early help, therapeutic support services that look after the mental health needs of babies and young children in care are virtually non-existent.

The NSPCC has published a case for change to prioritise infant mental health of babies and young children in care. It sets out a number of solutions to how we can help address the lack of support services for these children.

Our case for change

Our case for change aims to prioritise infant mental health of babies and young children in care, bringing together a wide range of evidence from research and practice, from the UK and internationally, to help tell a compelling story about why we need to rethink our approach to infant mental health in the care system.

Building an evidence base

We're testing a new approach to address the lack of services available to support the mental health of babies and young children in care.

The New Orleans Intervention Model, first developed in the USA, helps social workers and judges to make timely decisions about whether a young child should stay with their birth family or enter care permanently by putting their attachment needs at the heart of decision making. 

The model is currently being piloted as part of a randomised control trial at NSPCC service centres in Glasgow and Croydon.