BABIES in Scotland are 12 times more likely to be killed than older children, campaigners have warned.
The child protection charity NSPCC said across the UK, nearly 200,000 babies were believed to be at a high risk of suffering abuse because they were born into families with problems such as domestic violence, mental health issues or addiction.
The charity has launched a campaign to try to make sure all babies born in Scotland are nurtured and protected, after pointing out that 27 infants had been killed in the country in the past ten years.
It said that even more vulnerable babies were at risk of harm because their parents were not getting the help they needed to deal with their problems.
The Scottish Government said it was investing millions of pounds into support children in their early years.
The NSPCC said parents wanted to do their best for their children, but some needed more support than others, such as those struggling with mental health problems, violence in the home, and alcohol and drug addiction.
Launching its All Babies Count campaign, it said while not all infants in these families were harmed, evidence showed that they were at a greater risk of neglect and abuse.
Statistics suggest that in Scotland one in five babies – more than 12,000 – are living in a family where a parent or carer is at high risk of depression or serious anxiety. One in 60 mothers and one in 12 fathers of babies under one also report hazardous levels of alcohol consumption, the charity said.
And one in 50 mothers of babies reported that their partner had used force against them.
The NSPCC said support for babies living in these homes needed to be “early and effective”. Research has shown that when abuse or neglect occurs, babies’ development can suffer.
Campaigners believe a lack of healthy interaction with parents and other carers in the first year can be a particular problem and can cause long-term damage to physical and mental health.
The Scottish Government has already published its Early Years Framework and the Getting it Right for Every Child agenda to help focus attention on this important area.
But NSPCC Scotland said it believed more could be done to increase the pace of delivery.
Its head, Matt Forde, said while “robust steps” had already been taken to make sure early intervention was a priority in Scotland, the nation needed to do all it could to ensure that young babies got the very best start in life.
“Parents who struggle with mental health problems, domestic abuse, or who have difficulties with drink or drugs, will often need more intensive support to provide the care and attention their baby needs,” he said.
“Support to build strong attachment between parent and baby as well as promoting positive parenting is crucial.
“We know that what happens in the first two years of a child’s life can set the template for later development – for better or for worse.
“It also makes sound economic sense. Investing in preventing harm is a more effective way of spending money than trying to pick up the pieces of children’s broken lives in the years after abuse or neglect has happened.”
Across the UK as a whole, the NSPCC said under-ones were eight times more likely to be killed than any other age group in childhood.
A Scottish Government spokesman said it agreed with the NSPCC that it was crucial to ensure “all babies count”.
He said: “As part of this, we’ve made a decisive commitment to investing in the early years by contributing £50 million over the next four years towards the £270m Early Years Change Fund and by supporting relevant charities and voluntary bodies through the £6.8m Early Years Early Action Fund.
“In terms of future initiatives, such as the Mind the Baby home visiting programme, we will of course continue to engage and discuss with key partners and groups such as the NSPCC.”