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Theme 1: Giving every child a good start

Summary :: Our Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy :: Theme 1: Giving every child a good start

There is increasing evidence that investment in the early years of life (0–5 years) is highly effective both in terms of the impact on future health and wellbeing and in being cost-effective. What happens during these early years, starting in the womb, has lifelong effects on many aspects of health and wellbeing, from obesity, heart disease and mental health, to educational achievement and economic status. It is important that mothers are supported to have good mental and physical health during pregnancy and early years. Smoking in pregnancy, which is a real challenge in Medway, impacts negatively on both maternal and child health. Parenting skills are important in improving outcomes and a particular focus is required on supporting the most vulnerable families to improve parenting and help very young children be school-ready.

The provision of good social care for children is important to ensure that children have a good start in life. In England the number of referrals to children's social care has increased in recent years and a similar pattern has been seen in Medway over the last two years, where the number of referrals has increased 63%, from 3,292 in 2009/10 to 5,364 in 2011/12. Of these, 383 children were subject to child protection plans in March 2012, higher than the national average but broadly in line with other similar unitary authorities of a similar size, for example Luton and Southend.

There has also been an increase in the number of children in care. In March 2011 Medway had 446 children in care, 19 more than in 2010/11. With 73 children in care per 10,000 children this is higher than the national average but again in line with other similar unitary authorities.

The number of children with special educational needs (SEN) is also expected to increase in the next five years. This may result in an additional 300 pupils with statements requiring specialist provision, over and above the number projected through normal population growth.

To respond to the care needs of children and young people, social workers play an important role in supporting children and young people to develop their emotional resilience and good physical and mental health. Medway is doing well at ensuring there are enough social workers with only 6.4% of social worker positions vacant in March 2012, the lowest level since at least 2006.