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Health visitors train volunteers to 'fill mental health support gap'

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Health visitors in Tameside, Greater Manchester, are training volunteers at a national family support charity to help parents at risk of developing mental health problems following birth.

The training programme was designed after the local early attachment service – run through a joint partnership between Pennine Care Foundation Trust and Stockport Foundation Trust – found a gap in support for parents with moderate mental health needs.

Volunteers from the Home Start charity took part in an NHS-funded four-week programme in the spring to improve their awareness of mental health issues and understanding of services they could suggest to families.

“This is a gentle way of supporting the family and encouraging them to open up and talk about their feelings”

Nancy Bradshaw

Areas covered included attachment theory, infant brain development, emotions experienced by parents during the ante natal period and the relationship with the child.

Following the programme’s success with the first wave of 10 volunteers – which has resulted in parents reporting improved relationships with their children and “high” demand for training from volunteers – it has been extended into 2016.

Home Start’s co-ordinator for the programme, Nancy Bradshaw, jointly presented a session at Unite’s annual Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association conference in Manchester this week.

She said: “The aim of the Parent Infant Mental Health [PIMH] service within Home Start was to promote wellbeing and to educate volunteers. Because they are the ones on the ground visiting families and going to them once a week offering two hours of support.”

“Communities are not like they used to be. They are quite fragmented, people live all over the country and children’s centres are closing”

Mina Warden

“This is isn’t about a volunteer going into a family’s home and asking them ‘Have you thought about attachment?’ This is a gentle way of supporting the family and encouraging them to open up and talk about their feelings,” she added.

Health visitor Mina Warden, who works at Stockport Foundation Trust and delivered the training, said community practitioners were less able to provide regular visits to families than they used to be due to more demand for safeguarding work.

“We do see the [mental health] risk factors out there but it might not justify a reason to keep visiting,” said Ms Warden.

“We also know communities are not like they used to be. They are quite fragmented, people live all over the country, children’s centres are closing and people haven’t got the money to go out to play centres,” she said.

Ms Warden said Home Start services were a “good resource” for helping to support struggling families.

However, she told Nursing Times that the Home Start training was “not designed to replace health visitors”.

“It is increasing the volunteers’ awareness and letting the families know they have a friend there to talk to, which helps to improve mood and reduce stress levels,” she said.

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