I propose to take Questions Nos. 484 and 485 together.
Baby Boxes for newborns are to be piloted under First 5 A Whole-of -Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2019-2028. Piloting Baby Boxes is just one initiative which is part of a wide ranging strategy addressing various aspects of the lives of children from birth to age five including supports for parents to balance working and caring, developments in early learning and care and health initiatives.
The gift of the Baby Box is intended as a welcome from the state for a new arrival to a family and an acknowledgement of this very significant moment for parents. The universal distribution of Baby Boxes also reflects an important equality principle that each child is given something of equal value at the start of their life. The concept of Baby Boxes originates in Finland (and has been implemented in a number of other countries) and consists of a package of items to assist with the transition to parenthood. The pilot will undertake research and consultation to determine items for inclusion in the pack and these may include safety items, baby clothes and toys to support early development and books.
Key objectives with the Baby Box and linked communications will include support for parent-infant bonding, information on baby development and early learning, advice and support for breastfeeding and promotion of infant health and safety.
Owing to Covid-19, work on the pilot project has been delayed. However, the Terms of Reference for the Working Group are being finalised and this group will be established in the coming weeks to lead this development. An initial task of this Group will be to finalise the scope of this project and agree a detailed project plan. Key initial considerations will include the identification of the pilot area, agreement on the optimal timing for (pre- or post-natal), and channel of, distribution of the baby box and the likely contents. Research and engagement with parents will be undertaken to inform the identification of items for inclusion.
Following this initial scoping phase, the Working Group will oversee a process to appoint suitable partners to develop and distribute the baby boxes and undertake a full evaluation of the pilot.