I recently received a sheet full of Parental Prompt Questions, regarding the development of my three year old. I was expecting a letter from my health visitor asking me to make an appointment so my child’s development could be assessed by a PROFESSIONAL. I was NOT expecting a DIY questionnaire that doesn’t even have to be sent back.
One of the reasons these developmental assessments have always been so important for our children is because they are a great opportunity for a health professional to check our little ones are safe and thriving. A health visitor can subtlety check for inappropriate bruising, see if they look afraid or malnourished, check the home environment and also get a visual on whether or not their carer is coping. If Mum, Dad or Carer is suffering with depression or even being abused at home then the assessment is an amazing opportunity to identify a problem and offer a lifeline.
When I first saw the letter I was outraged and assumed that the form was a cost cutting excercise. So what on earth is going on? Well, I spoke to my local Health Visitor who explained the situation to me. It turns out it’s a way of coping with a backlog of over a thousand visits that have to be made by 2, part-time health visitors. Apparently, the times when your child is visited by a health visitor have changed. Any babies born now will be seen when they are, 10-14 days old, 6 weeks and 2 years old. The reason we got a form rather than a visit is that Izzy’s birthdate got caught up with a bunch of others who fell between the cracks when the new visiting ages were created. My family was deemed to be fairly safe so a questionnaire was sent instead of an appointment to try and ease the backlog.
The woman I spoke to obviously loves her job, but apparently lots of Health Visitors based in cities burn out from the overwhelming nature of what they come across in their job. Simply put, recruiting and keeping Health Visitors is very difficult and there is a huge shortage of them. So what does this mean? Unfortunately because there aren’t enough health visitors in Cambridgeshire, there will be kids that slip through the net. Kids who were fine at their last check may now have had a change in their family circumstance meaning their “safe” family dynamic has changed unnoticed.
The thing that infuriates me the most about this form is that you don’t even need to send it back if, “…you are happy with your child’s development.” From receiving the letter, it took me 10 days to read it properly and fill it out and I’m a fairly functional mum. If a parent who is barely coping or even abusing their child gets that letter, what are the chances they’re going to take the time to carefully fill it out and send it back with their concerns? Would someone who isn’t coping be in the right frame of mind to use this form to reach out? Would an abuser want to highlight any problems the child might have so attention would be drawn to the family? There isn’t even a number to call or an email address to use, the entire thing is completely reliant on snail mail, not ideal if your desperate.
The form is meant to give parents the chance to assess their kids themselves and get in contact if they feel anything is wrong. In theory this is fine but there are also plenty of children in “safe” homes where the parents have simply put their heads in the sand. We don’t always want to face the fact something might be wrong with our kids and sometimes it takes an outsider to state the obvious. Because of a manpower shortage, it could be years before these kids get identified.
This is not meant to be a rant about my local Health visitors, they have always been fantastic, the problem is there just aren’t enough of them, they’re not valued enough and they have much too much to do with the time that they have. But isn’t it sad that such an important job, one that is designed to protect us and our children is so undermanned? There have been so many cuts to health visiting services and unfortunately the people doing the job have so many targets and so many budget restrictions that I’m not sure how they’re ever going to be able to do everything they need to do. Come on Dave, spare a thought for our health visitors, they may not bring millions into the budget but they can save our families a fortune in health and safety.