- Support focuses on helping parents to bond with their baby and develop coping strategies
- Analysis shows lower anxiety levels post course, and a four-fold fall in referrals to specialist services
Studies have shown that around one in 10 mothers suffer postnatal depression, with more than half failing to seek support for this. Lack of awareness of the issue can be a major factor, which is why children's centres play a vital role in identifying mothers that may be affected by postnatal depression and helping them access specialist support services.
In Sefton, Merseyside, around one in five mothers suffers from postnatal depression or some form of common mental disorder. The condition can affect a mother's relationships with friends and family and damage the attachment she forms with her new child.
For the past three years, Hudson Children's Centre in Maghull has delivered an intensive programme for new mothers with a history of postnatal depression or poor mental health. Mothers and their babies attend weekly workshops at the centre delivered by Hudson Children's Centre staff and Sefton Council health visitors and with a focus on developing parents' self-care skills and resilience.
The Shine programme was developed after analysis by centre manager Kelly Herron identified that half of all their crisis mental health referrals were new mothers affected by postnatal depression. In addition, the centre was receiving a high number of referrals for one-to-one support for issues linked to parental mental health.
"Issues included attachment difficulties and parental disharmony," says Herron. "It led us to review our mental health early help offer."
Shine sessions are run on coping strategies, self regulation, maternal and baby bonding, confidence and resilience building, and communication skills. It was extended to a 10-week course after parents said that the initial six-week programme was too short.
Families are self-referred or come via health visitors and social care staff. A home visit is carried out before the course starts to better understand mother and baby's individual needs and avoid meeting families "cold" at the first session. During this visit, participants are introduced to Nikki Cureton, who has worked as a family development worker at the centre for more than 10 years.
"We want to ensure that our families know we will walk with them the whole way - for many of them stepping outside the comfort zone of their small inner circles can be a huge thing," says Cureton.
The centre maintains one-to-one support throughout the programme and post-course as part of an "exit strategy".
Herron says Cureton's role is to "ensure participants understand what the programme is and what it can do for them, reducing anxieties about engaging and ensuring any barriers are minimised".
"This can be anything from moral support to overcome nerves to ensuring other factors - such as key vulnerabilities, support for domestic violence, financial pressures or additional needs - are considered," adds Herron.
Each course costs around £1,000 to run 10 sessions of one hour 45 minutes each, with funding coming from Sefton Borough Council and Hugh Baird College. So far, nearly 50 families have participated in the programme, which has now extended to three further Sefton children's centres with two new groups due to start courses in January 2018.
Participants undertake activities that help them problem solve and develop coping strategies that will work for their circumstances and identify barriers they may face.
"By focusing on the positive aspects of a mother's life it builds confidence and resilience which has a direct impact on the life of the family as a whole," says health visitor Carmel Blake.
Participants come together for a meal after the course to celebrate achievements, while post-programme visits and "check in" interactions focus on the long-term wellbeing of mother and baby.
Participants have their wellbeing assessed pre- and post-programme using the Health and Anxiety Depression Scale (HADs). Around 80 per cent of parents show a significantly lower HADs score; with the other 20 per cent reporting greater awareness of their own anxiety and its impact. All participants reported improved coping skills, family relationships and positive attachment with their children. A further 60 per cent reported taking up activities that benefit their health, including swimming, walking and yoga.
In addition, referrals by Hudson Children's Centre to specialist crisis mental health services fell from 50 per cent in 2015/16 to seven per cent in 2016/17.