14th June 2016
Ruth Hudson, Health Visitor Practice Teacher, currently on a part-time secondment to the iHV, reflects on the inaugural Infant Mental Health Awareness week and its associated conference on 9 June in Westminster, London.
I have been privileged to be representing the iHV on the planning group for the first UK Infant Mental Health Awareness week. The week was organised by Clair Rees, Executive Director of Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK in collaboration with a wide range of partners supporting early intervention and working in the field of infant mental health.
The enthusiasm and commitment of all the organisations involved has been impressive, including representatives from PIP UK, Barnado’s, the Association of Infant Mental Health (AIMH) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) to name but a few. I have seen the enormous potential for the iHV and health visitors to work with others at a national and local level to promote Infant Mental Health, identify needs and to offer early interventions for families who need additional support with early relationships.
The Infant Mental Health conference on 9 June further emphasised the huge potential for working together and the crucial recent developments in policy, partnership, research and practice.
The four MPs who attended, Tim Loughton, Alistair Burt, Frank Field and Andrea Leadsom all demonstrated the cross-party commitment to the ‘1001 Critical Days’ manifesto focusing on early intervention. George Hosking, CEO of the WAVE Trust outlined a new initiative for 2017, ‘pioneer communities’, and urged everyone to read the report ‘Building Great Britons’ and to campaign at a local level and educate their local MPs. Chris Cuthbert presented the Big Lottery Better Start 10 year programme and introduced us to the term ‘preventonomics’ looking at the enormous potential cost savings of early interventions.
The importance of research and the collection of evidence was a key theme of the projects presented, and Professor Jane Barlow gave a comprehensive overview of the current research. She outlined the evidence to support key interventions in Infant Mental Health and recommended that there should be a health visitor in every team trained in the use of Video Interactive Guidance (VIG).
The inspirational speaker, Elaine Hanzak, spoke about her personal experience of living through perinatal illness and the effects of the ‘wheel of expectation’. Clair Rees emphasised the importance of a life course approach to mental health and ‘holding the baby in mind’.
Questions were raised about the impact of cuts in local authority budgets and speakers urged everyone to lobby their local MPs and engage with local communities to highlight the importance of universal and specialist services for Infant and Perinatal Mental Health.
Infant Mental Health Awareness week has seen health visitors involved in activities across the UK and my local Health Visiting Team at Walton Health Centre, Surrey, ran a series of infant massage introductory sessions with their local Children’s Centre staff.
Mums, Dads and babies ranging from 2 weeks old to 10 months attended, and the sessions were relaxed, informal and great fun. Parents asked lots of questions about infant mental health and the health visiting team were able to talk about healthy social and emotional development in babies and toddlers.
Denise Holland, Community Nursery Nurse, said “it was a great opportunity to highlight the importance of building babies brains and to encourage parents to talk with their babies and respond to their cues.”
I have been inspired by the people and organisations I have been in contact with through my involvement in Infant Mental Health Awareness week and I am looking forward to building on the success locally through promoting Surrey-wide activities for Infant Mental Health Week 2017, and nationally by encouraging health visitors to demonstrate and disseminate their key contribution to services for infant mental health and providing the best start for children in the first critical 1001 days and beyond.