Conference overview

The recurring theme of the conference can be summed up as 'love is a policy issue'.

The conference looked at relationships in their widest form - including participants' own as individuals and with families - and that was challenging at times.

There was a general plea for professionals to take their humanity and compassion to work. This is not easy given economic constraints and because  of compassion fatigue, or the need to protect oneself, or the policies or assumptions of the day can get in the way of doing what we know to be right.

There is ample evidence of the importance of attachment to babies and young children.  We need to do everything we can, at all levels, to support parental attachment (including kinship and other significant adults).

If we focus on supporting attachment and nurturing babies and children, it will result in all-round benefits in the form of happier, well-adjusted and productive citizens, with greater chances of better lives. This also makes economic sense.  People will be less dependent on services in the short, medium and long-term, which will lead to financial savings further down the line.

We also need to guard against undermining attachment.  For example, what is right for the child should be the primary consideration in choosing whether childcare is the right option.

It is important for working parents to be able to place children in high-quality childcare with staff qualified and paid commensurate with this.

Parents with children are being urged to provide strong and stable family units while at the same time being undermined by low pay, expensive childcare and benefit cuts. Family poverty, including child poverty is increasing as a result. Often, the older generation are helping their adult children to cope in a reversal of the traditional model of younger generations looking after older relatives.

Policy on childcare and on tackling inequalities should be better connected with what is known about attachment. This also includes understanding that attachment experiences and behaviour continue through life, including adult relationships and even through dementia behaviour.

Physiological changes in the teenage brain are better understood. We should accept the need for adjustments to accommodate teenagers. For example, there are currently trials in England to see whether starting school later in the morning boosts academic performance - on the basis that teenagers' changing melatonin levels dictate different sleeping patterns to younger children and older adults.  Adolescence and its associated brain development is a life stage, which is temporary.

Providing support for all parents who need it has proved challenging. A public health approach providing parenting programmes on a universal basis was evaluated as not being cost-effective. More targeted approaches, such as the Scottish Government introduction of the Family Nurse Partnership, are limited to a relatively small proportion of first-time teenage parents. One universal approach which has been shown to be effective is health visiting: increasing the number and developing the role of health visitors is welcome because it will support all babies and children.  It means that health visitors will be able to identify children and parents who need support and make sure this is provided early on. The policy will support parents and safeguard children.

This question ran through the conference: 'In 1967 (almost 50 years ago), the Beatles released 'All you need is love'.  What do we want for 50 years' hence?'

Really valuable conference - stimulating, challenging, validating. Participant