“When I had my first child, I had postnatal depression. I turned from someone capable, who had no problem holding down a very demanding job, into someone who couldn’t stop crying and couldn’t cope with the simplest things, like making a cup of tea.
“Luckily for me going back to work snapped me out of it, but that isn’t always the case for everyone,” said Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, who is also on the Treasury Select Committee and vice chairman of the APPG on Sure Start. Between 2001 and 2009 Andrea has also served as a chairman of Trustees for OXPIP (the Oxford Parent-Infant Project).
An organisation she was drawn to through her own personal experiences, OXPIP has existed since 1998 to “help Parents bond with their babies and thereby to promote lifelong emotional wellbeing”.
But it is not just the personal experience that has motivated Andrea to become involved with the social enterprise, which it is anticipated could play a significant role in easing Britain’s social problems, and is being piloted in Northamptonshire.
“Over those 12 years working with OXPIP I have seen that it is not just crucial for the mum to develop healthy parent-infant attachment relationships, but it is even more crucial for the child,” said Andrea. “In those first two years of life the baby learns his or her lifelong reactions.
“The experiences of a new baby are hard wired into his or her brain by the age of two.
“Where a baby is loved and nurtured he will grow up with the expectation that the world is generally a good place and people kind.
“For the baby who is abused, neglected or ignored, they will literally fail to develop a healthy brain. The frontal cortex, which is the bit that enables us to empathise with others, to love, act responsibly and to form relationships, will not grow properly.
“This is because this part of the brain has its peak period of growth between six and 18 months of age, and growth is dependent on the stimulation of a loving relationship with their mum, dad or carer.
“A baby that does not achieve a secure bond with his mum or dad is unlikely to grow into an emotionally balanced adult. Our prisons, our psychiatric hospitals and our homeless hostels are full of the evidence of poor early relationships.
“Research in the United States shows that a dollar spend on those under the age of two saves 19 dollars further down the line.
“Eighty per cent of long term-prison inmates are believed to have attachment problems stemming back to childhood.
“And it is believed you can predict two thirds of future chronic criminals have developed that behaviour by the time they are two years old.
“And its not just about criminality, there’s also the costs of family breakdown, where in Northamptonshire alone there are 858 children in the care system, costing taxpayers around £70,000 each year.
“Poor early relationships are passed from one generation to another creating a cycle of misery that costs our society dearly. Plus the knowledge of the misery and poor outcomes that these children are likely to suffer.”
NorPIP – The Northamptonshire Parent Infant Project – was founded by Andrea in September last year.
Its team include: clinical psychologists and parent-infant therapists with experience and specialist interests in attachment theory and interventions, mother and baby mental health and working with complex families from all walks of life.
Based in Towcester, it is hoped the service will roll out to centres across the county in the next three years.
Andrea said: “Like its sister charity, OXPIP, it will tackle some of society’s most challenging issues. We know there is a desperate need to address the broken elements within our society. I really think that psychotherapy has the power to change our society for the better.
“NorPIP will offer intensive therapeutic counselling to parents and their babies in Northamptonshire.
“We are in the early stages in Northamptonshire and most of our referrals have been from social services, with mums who have often got complex problems, but my experience of OXPIP shows that over a period of time we will achieve 25 per cent of self-referrals, and 50 per cent being referred by health professionals.
“At OXPIP we see an average 300 families a year and hope to get to that level in Northamptonshire. We hope to set up seven satellite centres throughout the county, and eventually we would like this to be a service that is provided across the county.
“The idea is PIPs will be provided with co-funding from local authorities, and would be locally run and locally focused to meet the needs of local communities.
“It is a social enterprise, which will have contracts for services and achieve 50 per cent of its funding through grants and donations.”
Extensive research into the potential effectiveness on organisations like OXPIP and NorPIP has been carried out by The University of Northampton.
Simon Denny, social enterprise development director, at The University said: “We were asked to do some research on how effective programs such as NorPIP really are by Andrea. After we first met up in June 2011, we looked at evidence from around the world, predominantly from the UK, USA and New Zealand.
“The evidence very strongly suggested that long term changes in behaviour come as a result of interactions between the parent and the baby.
“The penalties of not supporting parents with things like PIPs is a major problem.
“A child who has a rotten start in life is more likely to have a rotten life.
“I’m not saying all children who have bad relationships with their mums will end up in jail but what I am saying is those who end up in care homes, etc, that there is some evidence that in those cases where the parent really wants to make a change to the relationship with the child then the work that NorPIP does can be vital to society.”
To find out more, visit: http://norpip.org.uk.