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Embargoed to 00.01am, 28 June 2000
NEW RESEARCH ON BABIES WHO FAIL TO EAT
As many as one in twenty children under five experience distressing feeding problems that can affect their development yet the treatment they receive often fails to meet their needs.
New research by The Children's Society shows that many of these babies undergo inconclusive medical tests and stays in hospital while parents can reach crisis point without receiving the help they need.
The publication of the report - When Feeding Fails - coincides with the launch of a Children's Society National Development Centre offering training and consultancy services to health and social care professionals. The campaign includes an advice leaflet for parents and briefing paper for health professionals produced in partnership with the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association and the Paediatric Group of the British Dietetic Association.
When Feeding Fails highlights the strain on families whose children suffer the condition known as faltering growth, formerly known as failure to thrive. Babies suffer from faltering growth when their refusal to eat results in them failing to gain sufficient weight for normal healthy development.
The impact of feeding difficulties causes enormous strain on families and the resulting stress at mealtimes means that the problem gets worse. Children are often then channelled into the medical system. Their growth, development and behaviour can be affected and parents often lose all confidence in themselves.
The Children's Society has two specialist projects which successfully work with families in their homes. By videoing mealtimes and helping parents manage difficulties they can resolve their baby's feeding problems and rebuild parents' confidence.
When Feeding Fails, records the experiences of 30 parents caring for a child with faltering growth and includes the findings from an omnibus survey of 500 health visitors on the extent of the problem. It shows that:
"Children with faltering growth are not simply 'faddy' eaters. It is distressing to parents and damaging to children if they are not eating enough to grow and develop as they should," says Di Hampton, Manager of The Children's Society's Feeding Matters National Development Centre.
"The traditional medical approach often tries to eliminate any health reasons for the faltering growth before considering 'social or emotional' reasons. Of course it is crucial that no medical conditions are overlooked, but it is also important that traumatic medical tests are not carried out unnecessarily. Figures show that the number of children with physical illnesses causing their weight to falter is very small1. For too long these children have been directed towards the medical or social services systems despite all of the evidence that these routes are unlikely to offer the solutions they need3.
"Faltering growth can affect children from any family but by working with parents and by listening to their anxieties, there are answers. However, these are not quick-fix solutions and they require time.
"Health visitors are the key to resolving this issue because they have the trust and confidence of families. But they need the time, the resources and the training to deal with this issue. We also believe that the Department of Health must introduce guidelines that put an end to the postcode lottery where families can reach crisis point before receiving the help they need."
Director of the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association, Jackie Carnell, said: "The CPHVA welcomes the new research by The Children's Society highlighting the issue of children under five with feeding problems. Health visitors have long recognised this as a major area of concern and are keen to play their part in new initiatives that assist health professionals - and parents - to understand better the problems of faltering growth."
The Children's Society recommendations include:
Parents who are worried their child may have faltering growth should contact their health visitor (details from their GP surgery) and ask them for a copy of our parents leaflet. Copies of the leaflet are also available by calling 0845 600 4400, though we do recommend that this is worked through with a trained health professional.
The new report, When Feeding Fails (£5.95) is available from The Children's Society, Publishing Department. Tel 020 7841 4415.
Health and Social Services professionals can contact The Children's Society's National Development Centre at Brook House, Pennywell Road, Bristol BS5 0TX telephone 0117 941 5432.
John Fulcher 020 7841 4420 or 07949 111866 (out of hours).