Last reviewed 11 June 2021

New research has highlighted concerning gaps in infant mental health services for babies and toddlers aged from birth to two-years-old.

The Parent-Infant Foundation conducted a survey ahead of Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 to understand more about the provision of services for children of different ages, and whether training and professional development had equipped staff to work with infants.

The findings reveal “a baby blindspot” and show infants are too often overlooked and neglected in children and young people’s mental health provision when services should work with children from birth onwards.

The results of the survey confirm that local children and young people’s mental health services often do not even cater for or accept referrals for babies and toddlers. Key findings from the research show that:

  • only 9% of respondents felt there was sufficient provision available for babies and toddlers whose mental health was “at risk” in their area

  • just 36% of respondents reported that, within children and young people’s mental health services in their area, there are mental health services that can work effectively with babies and toddlers aged 0-2

  • only 52% of respondents said their local NHS children and young people’s mental health service took referrals for children aged two and under.

The research also reveals concerning disparities in training, understanding and confidence levels among professionals working in children and young people’s mental health services. Just under a third (31 per cent) of mental health practitioners who took part in the survey felt that they didn't understand infant mental health, rating their understanding as only 1 out of 5.

To ensure that all children across the UK can access appropriate mental health provision, if and when they need it, the Foundation is calling for:

  • policy and investment from national Governments to increase provision of infant mental health services

  • a drive within the NHS to hold commissioners and providers to account for offering mental health services for all children

  • a workforce development strategy to ensure there are trained professionals with the specialised skills required to deliver these critical services.

Sally Hogg, head of policy and campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation, said:

“It is clear from these new statistics, and our previous research, that there is a “baby blindspot” and that infant mental health is frequently forgotten in children and young people’s mental health provision. The pandemic and lockdown have been traumatic for some families already experiencing many challenges so the need for specialised support is greater than ever.”

The full report is available here.