Words by Abi Scaife
Is anyone ever prepared to become a parent?
No amount of classes, well-meaning (but never solicited) advice, or 3 am Google searches will ever be able to entirely ready you for what will happen when you have a child - but that doesn’t mean assistance isn’t helpful.
For those in the North East of England, there is a charity committed to helping new parents get started on the right foot - for their sanity, and their baby’s development.
The Children’s Foundation has its roots in an incredibly successful fundraising campaign, The Yellow Brick Road, in the 90s - and today serves children and families across the North East of England.
Unfortunately today, the North East of England has the second-highest rate of low income and deprivation after Inner London, according to the charity.
“The charity very much focuses on early intervention and prevention,” explains Sean Soulsby, the CEO of the Children’s Foundation. “We have three core themes; early years, children's physical health and children's mental health and they reflect the core needs of children now.”
These three tenets guide the foundation through its work - and to celebrate 30 years of supporting parents across the North East, they launched their Baby Box.
“The Baby Box project is our newest project and was created during the pandemic, with families, new parents, parents-to-be and healthcare professionals,” says Sean.
Baby boxes are, typically, a box of helpful items sent out to new parents to give them a hand through the first few weeks to a year of parenthood. Commonly, they will include items like thermometers, towels, bibs, and often a mattress and fitted sheet to turn the box into a safe first bed for the baby.
Countries such as Finland and Scotland have government-issued baby boxes that go out to every new parent, and these are like goodie boxes, including the items mentioned above and more.
The Children’s Foundation wanted their Baby Box to be a little more unique - and, primarily, to set parents up for the rest of the child’s life, not just for the first few months.
“They take a developmental approach to the child [while] others look after parental well-being and confidence,” explains Sean. “What we're trying to do is level up from birth. It's by no means a silver bullet, but it's one thing that we can do here in the North East.”
The Baby Box from the Children’s Foundation includes developmentally stimulating toys and activities - things like books, sensory toys and a playmat. There are also the essentials, like a hooded bath towel and thermometer, but primarily this Baby Box is to help provide parents with toys to stimulate their child’s development - things that wouldn’t normally make a list of essentials to purchase when funds are limited.
“It is a huge resource for parents, not just those first kind of few weeks and months, but the first year or year two of that baby's life.”
While the boxes are limited, for now, to the North East of England, Sean hopes that this is something that will be adopted throughout the UK. Like the Scottish model, the ideal for him is that these baby boxes will go out to every expecting parent, to give their child the best start in life.
But what makes the Children’s Foundation Baby Box so different from those given out in countries like Scotland and Finland?
Those toys we mentioned, that help the development of the baby, are put together to really be a foundation to change so many of the problems that face children and young people in the North East.
If something like the Baby Box and all the stimulating, developmentally beneficial toys that they provide can help children get off to a good start, Sean hopes it will have a knock-on effect on the rest of their lives.
“If we're going to address all of these issues around you know, school readiness, cost, child poverty, etc, we need to be getting it right before the baby's born and investing at the very earliest opportunity,” explains Sean.
The Baby Boxes are based on the basic principles of love, laugh, talk, read, sing, play and count - all core concepts that, when nurtured, can help babies and children grow and flourish. They also take into account the 1001 critical days - a theory with a huge amount of evidence that the first 1001 days of a child’s life, including pregnancy, are key to their future development.
“You don't have to be a child health expert to make a difference,” assures Sean. “Something as simple as reading a nursery rhyme to your baby or playing with them in the bath - we know the impact that that has.”
Thanks to initiatives like The Children’s Foundation’s Baby Boxes, the development and wellness of a child no longer depend on the wealth of their parents.
Now, children from poorer backgrounds or deprived areas also get an incredible start to their life - all because of a box full of toys, and the determination of one charity.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
The Breastfeeding Network. This charity is an independent source of support and information for breastfeeding women and others. Learn more here.
The Kallipateira Moorhouse Foundation. They raise funds for research into maternal and fetal health, in particular trying end stillbirths. Find out more and support them here.
Barnardo’s. This is a children's charity that protects and supports children and young people in the UK who need them. Find out more here.