The, “Do It Yourself”, 2.5-3 Year Development Assessment. Seriously??

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.

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How Time Flies…

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I came across an old photo album the other day and it only contained pictures of Sam as a baby. These were the days before Maisie and Isabelle, days when Ferg and I looked YOUNG! It was astonishing, I looked enviously at my own skin and my non bag-laden eyes. I wish I knew then that I had nice skin, I’d have enjoyed it a bit more.

Anyway, looking at the album, made me feel all nostalgic and warm, remembering how simple it was with only one child, how happy we were with our little chubby baby. We felt really grown up and even though it was only eight years ago, I looked at us then and thought about all the lessons we’ve learnt and all the things that have happened to us and our families since then. When that photo was taken we didn’t know if we’d have the three kids we wanted, we didn’t know what the future looked like but as a little family we were ready to go through it together.

Parenthood changes you doesn’t it? Not only in terms of looking and feeling older (Darn you to heck, you sleepless nights!) but in terms of priorities. Before kids you can afford to put yourself first, after kids that’s just not an option. One thing I didn’t realise though, was that you also have to make a conscious effort to consider your husband/wife/partner when children come on the scene. I’m not saying that as soon as you have a child you forget about them, I just mean that other things suddenly seem much more important.

I remember quite clearly, how Ferg and I would sometimes play the, “I’m more tired than you game,” when Sammy was small. We would take turns trying to get him off to sleep and Ferg would wander around the spare room for hours trying to comfort him. In the end though, the hours of wandering around would eventually lead back to me for a final feed. I remember nursing him In the dead of night, delirious with tiredness and struggling to ignore the excruciating pain of non-stop breastfeeding. I’d look at my sleeping husband and think, “I’m obviously more tired than you Ferg, I definitely win!” I’d imagine of all the opportunities he would have for a rest, on the train to work, lunchtime… Er… on the train home. In reality, we were both exhausted. Was it Ferg’s fault that he didn’t have breasts to feed the baby? Was it his fault I didn’t want the baby to be fed with formula? No of course not! That was our decision. At the end of the day, whether or not you’re more exhausted than your partner is irrelevant. When you have a baby, you both get really, really tired and struggle to function in the same way as you did before having a baby.

It’s sooo easy when you’re super tired to be snappy and argumentative. Little grievances can turn into big grievances, especially after a day alone in front of Cbeebies, feeling like nothing more than a tiny person’s milk-bitch. If you’ve given up a career or even just put it on hold, then resentment can easily worm it’s way into your relationship if your other half is off at work with their identity firmly still in check. At the end of the day, it’s mentally, physically and emotionally hard work having and looking after a baby. But it doesn’t get any easier by allowing resentment to creep into your relationship.

I remember a woman in my friend’s NCT class who decided to leave her boyfriend when her little boy was just a couple of months old. She had to do everything on her own. She did it brilliantly by the way, but it did make me stop and actively thank God that I had Ferg and that he’s a great dad and a loving husband. I thought then, “This is hard, but I’m really glad I’m doing it with Ferg.”

So eight years down the line, with three children all over two, we feel like we’re coming out of a tunnel. Don’t get me wrong, the tunnel has been great, if a little intense, but, we REALLY enjoy the relative freedom of having slightly older children. We recently celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary by going away for 2 whole nights. Nana and our besties looked after the kids and we wiled away the hours with spa treatments, eating good food, walking and chatting. It was glorious to be alone and not worry about cutting up food, wiping bottoms and defusing tantrums, but it was also just long enough to start missing our little terrors.

These days, my chubby baby Sam is now a lean, sporty big brother who looks after and winds up his sisters in equal measure. Life is more complicated now, but it’s fundamentally good and were still happy. I’m determined to actively treasure it and be thankful for it. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so show your nearest and dearest know how much you love them today.