Charity Action for Children says it’s “deeply worrying” that some youngsters in the country are falling behind in their critical first few years, and is urging the Government to reverse a decline in services caused by council budget cuts.
Public Health England data shows that 88.2 per cent of children met expectations in five areas: communication, problem solving, social interaction, fine motor skills (holding objects and drawing) and gross motor skills such as walking without falling and kicking a ball.
Every three months, nursery nurses and health visitors examine thousands of children aged between two and two-and-a-half years old in England to check their mental and physical development, as part of the Healthy Child Programme in the UK.
The two-year health check, one of the key reviews of the programme, gives parents an insight into how well their child is progressing.
The latest statistics cover July to September last year, when more than 100,000 youngsters from 128 council areas were seen.
Across England, the proportion of children at or above the expected level in all five areas of development fell slightly to 82.1 per cent in 2019 – putting Lancashire above the national average.
More than two-thirds of children tested in the London borough of Brent failed to reach the five development targets – the lowest share in the country.
By contrast in Derbyshire, just 0.1 per cent of youngsters did not meet expectations.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “It’s deeply worrying so many toddlers are falling behind when it comes to crucial skills like communicating and playing with other children. Rather than catching up, in some parts of the country we’re seeing youngsters falling further behind on some of the key building blocks they need for a safe and happy childhood.
“Every day in our services we see how critical the first few years are to children as they develop at a whirlwind pace, unmatched at any other time in their lives. From language and relationships to health, toddlers are laying their foundations for the future.”
He added that the early years services for parents, such as children’s centres, are vital to giving children the best start in life.
“The Government must invest in our children by urgently reversing crippling cuts to council budgets, which have left them with no choice but to shrink or close these lifeline services on which parents rely,” Mr Hussain said.