Health visitor role extended as part of £45m initiative

By Tristan Donovan

| 17 April 2018

Children and parents will be seen by health visitors at least eight times before their fourth birthday as part of an early intervention initiative designed to improve outcomes for children.

The current statutory requirement is for health visitors to conduct five home visits in the first two-and-a-half years of a child's life. Picture: Institute of Health Visiting

Starting next month families in Blackpool will see the number of visits they get from health visitors rise from the statutory minimum of five to at least eight. It is the first time a town in England has committed to giving families more than the legal minimum of health visits.

The move is part of the £45m Blackpool Better Start programme, which seeks to boost the life chances of vulnerable under-fours in a town where around 30 per cent of children are born into poverty. A total of £1m of the overall programme fund has been set aside to transform the health visiting service.

In addition to increasing the total number of visits, meetings will become more parent-driven, with mothers and fathers encouraged to control the conversation and discuss any concerns they may have.

It is hoped the changes will mean more children and families get the support and advice they need and help families develop more open and trusting relationships with health visitors.

"By increasing the number of visits, we foresee parents receiving more support and attention from one-to-one visits," Merle Davies, director of Blackpool Better Start said. "This will help forge a trusting relationship and will encourage families to be more open and confident to discuss sensitive issues. 

"It will also help the health visitors to identify concerns at an earlier stage and refer to additional sources of support, making referrals to wider services more effective. This will include improved partnership working with nurseries."

The additional visits mean that health visitors will first see families 28 weeks into pregnancy. After birth they will visit children within 14 days and then again at three to five weeks, six to eight weeks, three to four months, and at nine to 12 months.

The final two visits will be a development review at two to two-and-a-half years old, and a school readiness review for three- to three-and-a-half-year-olds.

Parents in Blackpool welcomed the increase in health visits. First-time mother Eva Syrkova said: "My family isn't here, so having someone to talk to and having someone to help is so reassuring, especially with my first baby. I really think the additional visits will be good for building a relationship with my health visitor."

Mother-of-three Chantelle Keefe also welcomed the move: "I like that we can decide what we want to talk about in the visits, it won't just be about weighing or assessments, we can talk about things like weaning or whatever's worrying us."

As well as reforming health visiting, Blackpool Better Start is also introducing a new speech and language assessment to improve the identification of delays in children's development.

Blackpool Better Start was founded in 2014 and is a partnership led by the child protection charity the NSPCC and also involves Blackpool Council, the NHS and community groups.

It is one of five Better Start initiatives across England that received a share of £215m from the Big Lottery Fund to explore new ways to give young children a better start in life.

An evaluation of the reformed health visiting service in Blackpool will be carried out after it has been operating for 12 months.

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