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Parent-Infant Relationships

Resource will support mental health services for parents and babies

Published on: 22 February 2023

A new resource which aims to address a huge gap in support services for parents and babies across the UK has been welcomed by the Rt Hon. Dame Andrea Leadsom DBE MP.

The ‘Parent-Infant Relationships (PAIR) Services Commissioning Toolkit’, developed by Newcastle University and the Parent-Infant Foundation, will make it easier for health, social care, and early years commissioners to put parent-infant relationship services in place in their local area, and improve access to early support for parents and their babies.

The project has been funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC).

Parent-infant relationship services can support parents to develop a bond with their baby and address relationship difficulties, as early as possible.

However, access to parent-infant specialised teams across the country is patchy, with less than 40 in England and significant gaps across the country, especially in the North.

The new toolkit aims to address these gaps in the system, by supporting local commissioners to put parent-infant relationship services in place.

Rt Hon. Dame Andrea Leadsom DBE MP, who led the Government’s Early Years Healthy Development review, has welcomed the launch of the new toolkit.

She said: “I am delighted to see the launch of the Parent-Infant Foundation and Newcastle University’s Toolkit for Commissioners. 

“It usefully collates research, practical advice and information, to help those setting up parent-infant relationship services, and comes as the government has made fresh announcements on the rollout of the Best Start for Life Vision, which includes £100 million of support for infant and perinatal mental health.

“The building blocks for good lifelong physical and emotional health are laid from conception to age two, so investment in those early months and years can be incredibly effective. This toolkit helps commissioners navigate the evidence and make decisions that work for their local populations’ needs.”

The Toolkit is aimed at anyone with responsibility for commissioning services which promote and strengthen parent-infant relationships.

It will be an especially useful resource for local authority early years commissioners, including those who received the Government’s Family Hubs and Start for Life funding in 2022.

Underpinned by evidence and research

The research-informed toolkit offers a ‘one-stop-shop’ for commissioners; providing background, evidence, practical advice, and information needed to commission and set up parent-infant relationship services in their area.

The development of the toolkit has been led by academics at Newcastle University and the Parent-Infant Foundation. The team worked closely with commissioners of early years and mental health services, as well as service-user parents, to develop the toolkit.

The conversations with commissioners highlighted issues such as a limited understanding of the importance of babies’ mental health and ambiguous use of language around services which could lead to confusion.

There were also calls for a better understanding of the evidence-base for specialist parent-infant mental health teams, and more information about the evaluation of existing services.

Dr Bronia Arnott, from Newcastle University, who co-led the project, said: “We were keen to co-develop this toolkit as we could see the evidence of the impact of parent-infant relationship services where they were available, but also the huge gaps in provision.

“This toolkit aims to support access to more parent-infant relationship services across the country, reducing inequalities and ultimately ensuring more infants and families get the support they need during such a critical period of child development.

“We hope that by working together to create this resource it will help parents and babies, and ultimately help to close the gaps in services.”

Keith Reed, Chief Executive Officer at the Parent-Infant Foundation, said: “This research really got to the core of the way commissioners think and the reasons they might not be inclined to invest in specialised parent-infant relationship teams. We saw that there was a will to support babies wellbeing and mental health, but not always the clear way to do so.

“This toolkit fills so many gaps and we hope that it will be hugely helpful in encouraging commissioners to bring these teams to their areas. Our aim is to create more support for babies and their families, so they can grow up having nurturing relationships that lay the foundation for lifelong mental and physical health.”

‘The help was invaluable’

Stacey is a mum from Newcastle who has been supported by a parent-infant relationship team and was involved in the research project.

She said: “The help I received during the end of my pregnancy and for the first year of my little one’s life was invaluable.

“As someone who has faced trauma previously and a miscarriage as well as a difficult childhood, I was incredibly concerned about my mental wellbeing and how I would bond with my child, if at all, once she was born.

“The service showed me that I could break the cycle and provide a better and happier life for my own child. It also provided me with an outlet to express my feelings and concerns without feeling judgement.

“I received help for longer than the normal time period, this was due to my therapist understanding that short term help hadn’t actually helped long term, in the past. To be understood and have that support during an incredibly stressful time with not only pregnancy but the Covid pandemic certainly changed what could have been a very different outcome without that support.”

A launch event to introduce and support the implementation of the toolkit will be held online on Tuesday 28 February, from 12pm until 1pm.

You can register for the event using this link

You can access the toolkit here


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