childrenwalkingDH Director of Nursing Viv Bennett considers the importance of giving children and young people the best start in life in her official blog for Public Health England:
Children and young people are our future. Making sure our children get the best start is an investment in both each person’s health and wellbeing and in our society. PHE has a real opportunity to make a difference by supporting a healthy start for all children and addressing the inequalities that disadvantage some from the very beginning of their lives. In all of our work at PHE we need to understand the impact on children and young people and seek to maximise the benefits for them.

The PHE priorities document makes clear the importance that we place on ‘getting it right for children’ and sets out our specific corporate priority for this year to:

‘support families to “give children and young people the best start in life, through working with health visiting and school nursing, family nurse partnerships and with strategic partners”

I am delighted to be the national director leading this priority area, working alongside Dr Ann Hoskins, PHE Director for children, young people and families.

The four work programmes in this priority area are to:

  • accelerate improvements in child health outcomes
  • promote healthy weight and tackle childhood obesity
  • partner the Early Intervention Foundation
  • partner the Troubled Families programme.

As recognised by Marmot, Kennedy and the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum, variation is a major concern. Across children and young people’s health outcomes variation often is about where they live and the socio-economic groups of their family.

Some examples of this variation which related to the PHE priorities work show:

preventable infant mortality - best 2.2; average 4.4; worst 8 per 1000 live births
smoking in pregnancy – England best 2.9%; average 13.2%; and worst 29.7%
obese children in England aged 4-5 years – best 5.8%; average 9.5%; and worst 14.5%. Child obesity rates roughly double in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived.
And we know some of the health challenges that face our young people. For example:

  • 9.6% of children aged 5-16 years had a clinically recognisable mental disorder
  • 11% of boys and 8% of girls reported current asthma symptoms
  • data, compiled from the 2011 census, shows nearly a quarter of a million people aged 19 and under in England and Wales were caring for parents, siblings and others
  • over 27% of 5 year olds have tooth decay
  • 4% of boys and girls attending school described themselves as regular smokers.
So what can PHE do? We have evidence from neuroscience and life course studies about the importance of positive parenting in the first three years of life on life chances, of the impact of early years on adult health and thus the importance of prevention and early intervention. Public health has a critical role to play to promote the evidence base and influence commissioning and delivery. In PHE, we can make a difference in a number of ways:
  • Use knowledge about risk and what builds resilience
  • Promote evidence and learning from practice about what works
  • Combine universal interventions with targeted help for those most at risk
  • Take a life course and place-based approach –schools, families, and communities
  • Work in partnership, taking a coordinated and collaborative approach, recognising strengths of different partners and using resources effectively


The priorities programme board will be making sure that we do this through both our specific action plan and supporting the work of PHE more broadly. We are commissioning a review of the evidence for the Healthy Child Programme to make sure our local services and the practitioners we support (for example health visitors and school nurses) have the best evidence for universal interventions and will be working with our partners in the Early Intervention Foundation and the Troubled Families Programme to develop effective targeted approaches. Most importantly we will continue to listen to the voices of children and young people and act on what they tell us.

Health visitors and school nurses are a really important part of the public health workforce in touch with many families and young people every day, providing services which make a difference to health and wellbeing. PHE is supporting these practitioners by working in strategic partnerships with the Department of Health, NHS England and Health Education England on national programmes to increase the number of health visitors and to support both professional groups to provide the most effective care. In the early years we have a focus on improving access experience and outcomes at key points, like transition to parenthood: pregnancy and the early weeks and at two years. For school aged children and young people we are doing work in supporting choices for good physical and mental health and working with those young people with specific needs like the recent work with young carers.

We need to see sustained investment in services that improve and protect the health of our children and young people and to support commissioners. We are doing a range of work on measuring outcomes and on the economic case for prevention.

And finally, news of important events about good health in the school years. We are holding four regional events for Local Authority lead officers, elected members, public health teams, school nursing leaders, head teachers and commissioners of children’s services, called “Delivering excellence: maximising the health and wellbeing of school-aged children.”

These regional events give you the opportunity to:

  • hear from policy leads, listen to latest updates and share new resources
  • consider the opportunities and challenges in the new public health system
  • be signposted to data and evidence to support commissioning and delivery
  • listen to the views and experiences of children and young people.


Please share locally and join us and contribute and share your experiences and help to shape new developments.

This blog originally appeared at