Voice of the Infant: best practice guidelines and infant pledge

Co-produced by a short-life working group, on behalf of the Infant Mental Health Implementation and Advisory Group, which is part of the Scottish Government’s Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Programme Board.


Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) principles[1] and values should underpin all services. GIRFEC is the Scottish Government's commitment to provide all children, young people and their families with the right support at the right time. With the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)[2] as its foundation, it provides an evidence-based consistent framework and shared language for promoting, supporting, and safeguarding the wellbeing of all children. Children's Services Plans (CSPs) provide the statutory framework for the strategic planning and delivery of local services and support for babies, children, young people, and families in each area of Scotland, so that they are delivered in a way that improves outcomes. This means identifying needs of the local population, gathering information on what kinds of support provide early help, preventing needs arising, where possible. CSP partners are required to give full consideration to the views and needs of all babies, children and families in developing their CSPs.

This sits alongside The Promise Scotland[3], which focuses primarily on improving Scottish services and the way that they are delivered for care experienced children and young people (see Appendix 3).

* The term 'infant' refers to babies and very young children. All three terms are used within this document.

The World Association for Infant Mental Health's Position Paper on the Rights of Infants[4] argues that the UNCRC "does not sufficiently differentiate the needs of infants and toddlers from those of older children". This risks their unique needs and experiences being overlooked.

Infants often have many important adults in their lives. The advice from Lansdown[5] about young children's participation in decision-making that "the most meaningful opportunities will be created closest to their immediate environments" is pertinent to the task of facilitating infant voice. Babies are particularly sensitive to their primary caregiver's emotional state and look to them to understand the world and know whether a situation is safe or not. However, it is also important to remember that while parents and carers are well-placed to give an insight into the baby's views and wishes, these may not be the same as their own.

Keeping a focus on the infant can sometimes be a challenge if the adults present have a lot to say. It is important for those around babies to be on the lookout for their communications.

Wall and colleagues[6] identified eight "pivotal" factors that can inform our approach to recognising, facilitating and understanding infant voice: Definition, Power, Inclusivity, Listening, Time and Space, Approaches, Processes and Purposes. Voice is context specific, and these factors inform how the adult-infant relationship and its inherent power imbalance can influence how we interpret and take account of what we hear and observe. The importance that adults place on infant needs and communication varies and can lead to diverse interpretations of infant voice across different contexts and social settings. These factors may also influence our own perceptions, and should be taken into account as we try to make sense of what the baby is telling us.

As we develop our practices to support the respectful facilitation of voice from the earliest age, it is helpful to focus on the four concepts described in the Lundy Model of Participation[7].


Email: pimh@gov.scot

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