The Institute of Health Visiting said their findings have laid bare the damage the pandemic had done to families, with the youngest and most vulnerable suffering most.
61% of health visitors in England reported an increase in cases of child neglect. Four out of five reported a rise in domestic violence and abuse, and perinatal mental illness. 65% of health visitors had caseloads of more than 300 children under five, 29% had caseloads of more than 500 and 12% caseloads of more than 700. One health visitor reported a caseload of 3,000 children.
The institute said the optimum maximum caseload for effective practice was 250 children, and fewer in areas of high vulnerability.
Covid-19 had affected babies and young children in disadvantaged families disproportionately as a result of factors such as overcrowded housing with lack of outdoor space, the impact of poverty and parental stress and anxiety, it said.
The institute also said cuts in public health budgets meant health visiting was already in a “depleted state” before the pandemic, with a 31% reduction in health visitors since 2015. This left many services “ill-prepared to meet the rapidly rising levels of need” since the early weeks of the first lockdown and many vulnerable babies and young children without the support that they needed, it said.