Page 3657 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 23 November 2022

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organic, environmental, social and/or physical. The evidence clearly shows that if children—and, indeed, their parents—are nurtured and cared for during this precious time, they can flourish.

While the evidence is important, we also wanted Best Start to encompass the stories and experiences of Canberrans. These experiences are at the very heart of Best Start and helped to direct the strategy’s four goals.

Earlier this year, we asked Canberrans about their experiences of supporting children and families during the first 1,000 days. We spoke with parents and caregivers, family support services and frontline workers, including maternal and child health nurses, and early childhood educators. We spoke with families that reflect the diversity of our community, including members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, LGBTIQA+ families, members of migrant and refugee communities, parents with disabilities, and parents with children with disability.

What we heard was a reminder that each family is unique, and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting children and families during the first 1,000 days. Many of the stories that our teams heard were raw, emotional and impassioned, but several common themes arose throughout the consultations. We heard that, in all types of families, becoming a parent is one of the hardest jobs to take on, but it can also be one of the most rewarding.

All parents and caregivers want their child to have the best start in life, and the vast majority are trying their best to make this happen. The consultations were a reminder that, while many Canberrans have the resources and knowledge they need to give their children the best start, not all children start life on an even playing field. Some parents report feeling overwhelmed and confused when trying to find or access the correct services for their needs. Best Start aims to create a service system that means that, no matter what door someone enters through, they will be connected with the right service and support for their needs.

We want to better support the mental health and wellbeing of parents and carers in those early days and years of parenting. We heard that some parents felt let down or forgotten by the system in the past, and we are working to improve mental health supports and services for new parents. This was also a key focus of the recently released Maternity in Focus strategy.

The challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the community were perhaps felt more intensively by expecting and new parents, who found that their access to support services and networks was suddenly limited. We have heard the stories of feeling overwhelming isolation and how hard the challenges of COVID have been for families. Recovery will take time. More support is needed, and we acknowledge these challenges.

Certain members of our community may have additional needs that must be considered and supported. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people living with disability, and people who identify as LGBTIQ+.

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