There are many forms of support potentially available to parents and carers of infants, depending on their specific circumstances. This support can be provided by a range of organisations and can include, but is not limited to:

Some of these services are available to everyone, and some are targeted at certain families depending on need.

Early Years Healthy Development Review

In March 2021, the Government published the report of the Early Years Healthy Development Review, chaired by Andrea Leadsom, The best start for life: a vision for the 1,001 critical days.

The report emphasised the importance of the period from the start of pregnancy to the age of two. It stated that these 1,001 days “set the foundations for an individual’s cognitive, emotional and physical development” and are also a time when “babies are at their most vulnerable”.

Start for Life offer

While the report noted “the many different services available” to support families during the first 1,001 days, it added that “all too often…families are left to work out for themselves not only what help they need, but also where to find it.” It added that “the Start for Life offer is patchy, is not joined up, and is not easily accessible for parents, making it almost impossible for them to navigate the system.”

The report encouraged every local authority in England, working with the NHS and other partners, to “publish a clear Start for Life offer for parents in their area – a single publication making parents and carers aware of what support they can expect in their local area.” It said this should be published on local authority websites and made available in places like libraries, community centres and GP surgeries.

Family Hubs

In terms of accessing Start for Life services, the report said that family hubs were “at the heart of [the Government’s] vision for baby-centred services” and that the Government would encourage all family hubs to include a specific Start for Life offer. It explained:

Local Family Hub networks may consist of both physical and virtual places where services to support families come together, from birth registration to midwifery, health visiting to mental health support and parenting courses to infant feeding advice. All of the many ‘wrap-around’ services provided by local authorities and health organisations – ranging from debt and housing advice and relationship support services, to language classes and support to overcome domestic abuse, substance abuse or to improve wellbeing – can also be accessible through Family Hubs.

Family Hubs and Start for Life programme

At the Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021, the Government announced £300 million for a Family Hubs and Start for Life programme “to transform services for parents, babies, carers, and children in half of local authorities in England”.

The programme is intended to meet the commitments made in the report of the Early Years Healthy Development Review and comprises the following for 75 local authority areas for the period 2022 to 2025:

  • £82 million to create a network of family hubs. In January 2024, the Government announced that family hubs were now open in each of the selected 75 areas.
  • £10 million for local authorities to “co-design their Start for Life offer with parents and carers and publish it in an accessible format”.
  • £100 million for infant and perinatal mental health support.
  • £50 million for breastfeeding support.
  • £50 million for parenting programmes.

In February 2023, the Government published guidance for local authorities on publishing their Start for Life offer. The guidance acknowledges that it is “not always easy for families to access information about what support is available.” It states that a local authority’s Start for Life offer “should include all services available locally for families during the period from conception to the age of 2.” This will, it says, help ensure that “families can identify the support and services that will help them give our youngest citizens the best possible start in life.”

The guidance additionally states:

  • The Start for Life offer should be published online and also made available in locations that parents and carers are likely to visit in person – for example, GP surgeries.
  • The Start for Life offer should include information on universal services, available to everybody, and additional, targeted or specialist services and support.
  • Local authorities should think how to make their Start for Life offer as accessible as possible – for example, by adapting the material to empower key groups.

The guidance states that the Government’s ambition is “that all local authorities will have an easily accessible, single point of reference that families can use to navigate local services specifically for babies from conception to 2 years of age.”

It adds that even if an area has not been selected to receive a share of the Start for Life programme funding, the guidance “is designed to help [them] to bring together a Start for Life offer that clearly sets out the services available to families locally.” For those areas that are part of the programme, a programme guide sets out what they are expected to deliver.

Further information is available on at: Family Hubs and Start for Life programme. 

Private Members Bill

On 7 February 2024, Sally-Ann Hart MP introduced the Support for Infants and Parents etc (Information) Bill.

The Bill provides for each local authority in England to be required to publish a Start for Life offer on its website (and by other means deemed appropriate) and prescribes the services that must be included in the offer (Clause 1).

Local authorities would be required to have regard to guidance published by the Secretary of State when complying with this duty (Clauses 1(5) and 2).

The Bill also provides for the Secretary of State to be required to publish a report each year on the support available in England for infants, parents and carers of infants, and prospective parents and carers. As well as an overview of the support available, the report would be required to include any other information the Secretary of State considers appropriate – “for example, information about any impacts of support on outcomes for such persons”.

The Bill, which is a Presentation Bill, is scheduled to have its Second Reading on 15 March 2024. However, it is 13th in the list of Bills for that day and so is unlikely to be debated.

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