Infant Mental Health Awareness Week is an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, and social and emotional development of babies and young children, and the importance of early relationships.

The Parent-Infant Foundation has set the theme and coordinated Infant Mental Health Awareness Week for 6 years, during which time it has grown into a global event. During the week there are local and national activities happening to increase understanding of infant mental health and to showcase the amazing services that work with babies and their families.

Understanding Early Trauma

For Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, the theme is ‘Understanding Early Trauma’.

Babies can experience psychological trauma when their environments are repeatedly harmful or threatening to them or to their parent or caregiver. Traumatic experiences might include physical and emotional abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic abuse or high levels of stress or conflict at home.

Trauma early in life is influential because the brain is particularly “plastic” and susceptible to influences in pregnancy and the earliest years. Because early development lays the foundations for what happens next, experiences at that stage can have potentially widespread and long-term consequences.

A significant predictor of how adversity will impact a child is the strength and security of their relationship with their parent. Without a nurturing relationship to support them, young children experience negative events as more traumatic. If the relationship between parents and a baby is abusive or neglectful, this can be more damaging than other forms of early trauma.

Understanding trauma helps us to understand why infant mental health and early relationships are so important.

Report on understanding early trauma and the importance of early relationships

The Parent-Infant Foundation has launched findings from new research with the public and professionals. This included a survey with a representative sample of 2,000 adults from across the UK, and work with teachers and early years professionals. 

The research shows that:

  • 97% of professionals and 75% of the public recognise that early relationships are “very important”.
  • 84% of the public agreed or agreed strongly that health services should offer support to families with issues in early parent-infant relationships.
  • 84% of professionals disagree or strongly disagree that the UK Government does enough to protect children from trauma and its impact.
  • 67% of professionals disagree that public services in their area do enough to support young children who have been exposed to trauma.

The survey results also underline the impact of the lack of services for very young children, including gaps in mental health services and health visiting services.

Experiences of early trauma

The report asked professionals to share examples of what they see in their classroom or setting as a result of children’s experiences of early trauma.

Their responses described a wide range of challenges experienced by individual children, including struggles with language, attention, emotional wellbeing, social development, and relationships with peers and adults.

“…delayed emotional development, behavioural issues resulting from poor attachment, lack of confidence, inability to socialise, unable to concentrate, running, shouting out and interrupting, perceived as naughty…” – example of what professionals are seeing as a result of children’s experience of early trauma

The report sets out the case for more specialised parent-infant relationship teams around the UK to strengthen and repair early relationships between parents and their babies when these are at risk. It also calls for wider across-Government action to reduce and address trauma and adversity, and to strengthen parent-infant relationships.

Click here to read the full report from the Parent-Infant Foundation

Free 6-week introductory course on Infant Mental Health

HDS offers a 6-week introductory course on Infant Mental Health which is free for Third Sector organisations that work with mothers, fathers and carers of infants and young children.  Find out more and register your interest by clicking on the link below.

Click here to find out more about the HDS Infant Mental Health course