Scheme helps new parents take the leap to get support

Service specialises in parent-infant psychotherapy.

  • Offers individual and group therapeutic support.
  • Helps parents and children to address difficulties in relationships.


The Parent and Infant Relationship Service (Pairs) works to strengthen relationships between parents and their young children.

The service is part of Lambeth Early Action Partnership (Leap), one of five sites in deprived areas of England delivering the Better Start programme - the 10-year National Lottery-funded initiative promoting good early childhood development.

Leap's services encourage parents to create strong attachments with their children focusing on social and emotional development, communication and language as well as diet and nutrition.

Lambeth has some of the highest rates of deprivation and child poverty in the country, and since 2015, Pairs has worked in the wards of Coldharbour, Stockwell, Tulse Hill and Vassall. It is available to families from pregnancy until children reach the age of four.

The team leader for Pairs, a trained social worker, co-ordinates three child psychotherapists, a clinical psychologist and trainees from both these backgrounds to deliver a therapeutic support programme.

Parents who are referred to Pairs are offered one-to-one sessions that can be carried out either at home, a GP practice or local children's centre.

Dr Siobhan Higgins, a principal clinical psychologist working for Pairs, says the service aims to be as accessible as possible.

"We are aware that the community we work with often struggle to engage with services so we will see families wherever is convenient for them," she explains.

Self-referrals are not as high as the team would like and Higgins says there is still a stigma attached to accessing or requesting help.

"It's not very easy to admit that your early parenting experience isn't what you wanted it to be and to then say that to a health professional," she says.

The group work offered by Pairs - called Together Time and Circle of Security - enables parents to access community-based outreach support where "we can have a gentle conversation as a way to bring people into the service", explains Higgins.

She says the groups, held at community locations in the four wards, are run by a mix of Pairs team members as well as Better Start workers from children's centres.

Often the sessions are advertised as part of a children's centre activity programme, which helps parents access support with a formal referral from a health professional.

For Together Time sessions, run over six weeks, a clinically trained professional delivers the intervention, which encourages positive interaction between parents and their children.

Higgins says it allows parents to use a technique called Watch, Wait and Wonder, to help them think more mindfully and be reflective about their child's emotions and behaviour.

"It's an opportunity to start having honest conversations about parenting and thinking about the mismatch between expectations and reality.

"It's also thinking about times when parents feel most close to their children or others when they feel things might not click," she says.

With Circle of Security, an eight-week programme for parents with children up to the age of four, crèche places are provided so adults can speak freely. Higgins explains a series of video clips about parenting are shown each week followed by discussion time.

Parents are encouraged to think about their child's emotional needs and to reflect on their own personal challenges as a parent.

Higgins says the team is very "hands on" in delivering Circle of Security but the aim is to hand over the running of sessions to non-clinical staff.

For both groups, a flexible approach to non-attendance is needed, she says.

"We almost expect [a period of] non-engagement because these are people who are struggling," she explains. "We won't just close their case if they cancel an appointment or don't turn up - we will talk to them about any difficulties they are having."

Higgins explains the group work offered by Pairs is universal and also draws on the positive experience of parents who are coping well.

"Parents often learn from each other and support one another," she explains. "It's also a way of supporting people's confidence so they know that things are not just good they are great."


Leap's aims for its 10-year programme to improve the lives of children in Lambeth include focusing on family mental health and wellbeing and parents' skills and confidence.

Leap says figures to December 2018 show 106 families have accessed Pairs' one-to-one service on 855 occasions since it was launched in January 2016.

For its groups, Together Time (which also launched in January 2016) and Circle of Security (launched in October 2018), 77 families have accessed these services.

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

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £170 /year


CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £136 /year