Peer-support schemes build mothers' confidence

Engages vulnerable mothers in peer support programmes.

  • Works with local partners to deliver the initiatives.
  • Programmes help mothers benefit from accessing local services.


The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) has developed peer support programmes specifically for mothers with mental health issues and at risk of social exclusion.

The initiatives have been developed as part of the trust's 10-year strategy to support all parents in the first 1,000 days and reflect its wider ambition to create a peer support movement to improve parents' experiences of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood.

With one in five mothers experiencing depression, anxiety or psychosis during pregnancy or the first year of their child's life, the trust says focusing on maternal mental health is vital. An NCT study of 1,000 mothers found half were unable to disclose their emotional or mental health concerns to a GP or health professional.

"A lot of the mums we spoke to said even if they did have concerns about their own mental health -and felt it was impacting on their ability to look after their family - they weren't necessarily comfortable disclosing to a health professional for fear of losing care of their children," explains Sam Grimstone, NCT director of communications.

Peer support programmes provide an "accessible opportunity" for mothers to talk about their experiences, she adds.

"Being open about the issues and sharing lived experiences also allows maternal mental health to be de-stigmatised for those mothers who are going through it."

The first programme, Birth and Beyond Community Supporters (BBCS), funded by innovation foundation Nesta and the Early Years Social Action Fund, is run across five sites: south west London, Peterborough, Sheffield and Rotherham, Birmingham and Lincolnshire.

NCT works with local partners, such as a housing association, academy trust or a Better Birth Early Adopter site in Lincolnshire, to deliver the programmes.

"We've been able to develop really strong community relationships so we can network into local systems that already exist," explains Grimstone.

"These are areas where our partners are working with women who are at risk and potentially more isolated and have felt the need for this kind of programme," she adds.

The trust has appointed a local manager in each of the sites whose responsibility includes maintaining these key relationships with partners as well as recruiting teams of volunteers.

"We rely on word of mouth and Facebook advertising to find people locally who are interested in supporting other mothers," says Grimstone.

"It is intensive one-to-one peer support but it is fairly cost effective in terms of the level of support you are able to achieve."

Volunteers may accompany mothers to children's centres or to a healthcare appointment.

Grimstone says the second of its peer support programmes, Parents in Mind (PiM), is similar to BBCS but because the volunteers have all experienced mental health issues themselves they are given additional support.

Funding is provided by the Department of Health's Innovation Fund and the trust developed the programme's training in conjunction with the Institute of Health Visiting.

"These programmes rely on mothers being trained to a certain level of accreditation in active listening and support skills and then deploying them into communities," explains Grimstone.

"PiM volunteers are a vulnerable group in themselves so they get a similar eight weeks of training but also have monthly team meetings, clinical support and group reflection sessions."

In each of the three sites chosen for PiM - Coventry and Warwickshire, Widnes and Runcorn, and Newham - different approaches are needed to engage with women to talk about their mental health issues.

Grimstone says some communities are more open to speaking about maternal mental health and a good response is received to flyers put in GP surgeries signposting the service.


Since funding was awarded in 2017, BBCS has trained 142 volunteers who have supported 249 families.

Of the programme participants, 85 per cent said they felt more positive and 75 per cent felt more confident. Nine out of 10 felt more confident in accessing services and 92 per cent believed they had benefitted from the programme.

PiM, now in its third year, has trained 53 volunteers who have worked with 276 women.

There has been a reduction in depression and anxiety scores - as measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale - for the 84 women who reached follow-up by January 2019.

Anxiety scores reduced from 12.8 to 10.6 and depression scores reduced from 8.21 to 6.15.

In addition, 85 per cent of women supported said they felt the programme helped them feel there was someone they could talk to who understood them. Four out of five of these women said it helped them feel less isolated and alone and 84 per cent felt they could access the services they needed.

Click for more in CYP Now's First 1,001 Days Special Report

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