Delivering Baby Steps during Covid-19

Clare Law, Senior Development Manager at Blackpool Better Start, considers how her team has worked to reassure parents having a baby during the pandemic.

Clare Law

On the morning following the first major government announcement about lockdown restrictions and revised safety measures, NSPCC and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals were due to deliver a number of antenatal group work sessions to expectant parents in Blackpool.

In subsequent days, there were scores of already worried and anxious parents waiting to be reassured by our Baby Steps team that they were going to continue to be supported with their transition to parenthood, despite a pandemic.

A partnership approach

What followed, was a demonstration of why Baby Steps is the epitome of the Blackpool Better Start partnership.

It is grounded in an approach that is led by parents and infants, listening to their needs and acknowledging their difficulties that are then faced together.

It’s an approach that thrives on collaboration and innovation and this has never been more needed. The Baby Steps team is made up of health visitors, community nursery nurses, midwives and NSPCC family engagement workers.

They are resilient, show great ingenuity and are passionate about early intervention. The team worked quickly to find solutions to problems that many of us would normally never see in our lifetimes, in timeframes that suited the needs of families. They have worked tirelessly to ensure that local families faced limited disruption and are still able to engage with the Baby Steps programme and give their children the best start in life.

How has the programme worked?

In Blackpool, we are fortunate to have a world class health visiting service. The team provide eight contacts to all parents, three of which are still taking place fac-to-face even in current times.

This includes an antenatal visit, where Health Visitors can reinforce many of the messages that are provided as part of Baby Steps and provide the earliest intervention. The programme focuses on supporting parents to increase their reflective function and keep their baby in mind and also recognises the impact that having a baby can have on a couple’s relationship. These themes were of huge importance before, but are even more important now.

In addition to this, the NSPCC family engagement workers are now undertaking weekly telephone calls with expectant parents. These would previously have been face-to-face and in a group session, however this current model means that they can tailor specific sessions and provide an enhanced and individual service.

In addition, the team have noticed an increase in uptake in the programme and increased participation from dads and partners. Whilst the reasons for this are potentially multi-faceted, including parents feeling more anxious and in need of support services, there is also anecdotal feedback which suggests that this more tailored and flexible approach is more accessible for parents, with dads also more likely to be at home.

There has also been work with NSPCC nationally on the development of online materials which means that parents can also access and then digest key messages in their own time, no longer restricted by group dates and times. A study regarding online perinatal mental health service delivery has shown that women often find perinatal services difficult to engage with due to child care, napping schedules and transport (O’Mahen, 2013). This could also be true for antenatal education programmes where parents are often juggling other children and responsibilities.

A Better Start in the face of uncertainty

Bringing a baby into this new world is scary, and full of unknowns. Mums, dads and caregivers are facing their own challenges relating to the impact of the pandemic, supporting loved ones or experiencing social isolation. Becoming a new parent could seem like an impossible task, but one which the Baby Steps team are very much here to help with.

It’s often said that there’s no handbook for parenting, and there definitely isn’t one for during a pandemic. In Blackpool, we know that an instruction manual isn’t what’s really needed. Services like Baby Steps, whether virtual or face-to-face, can provide the ingredients to support new parents to respond to their baby’s needs, see the world through their eyes and build secure relationships from which they can develop and thrive.

Clare Law is Senior Development Manager at Blackpool Better Start

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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