Eighteen-year-old Bella* had experienced many difficulties during her lifetime. Her father died when she was 10 years old, and she’d been bullied throughout her time at school. With a family history of mental health issues, she had herself struggled with anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Bella was seven months pregnant and living with her mother in overcrowded accommodation when she was introduced to Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust (CLCH) family nurse partnership.
The family nurse partnership launched in Wandsworth in 2015 and came under CLCH in January 2018. The service works with more than 60 young parents across the borough. Unique to Wandsworth, it is a structured, intensive, home visiting service for first time parents under 20, as well as care leavers and women who experience mental health issues and domestic violence up to the age of 24.
Through the programme, specialist nurses visit vulnerable young people regularly over a two-and-a-half-year period, providing tailored health information on all aspects of parenting, from healthy pregnancies to exploring their own life goals.
The partnership plays a vital role in supporting parents who are care leavers or have experienced significant neglect in their childhood.”
Such intensive help from an early stage aims to protect the young person’s wellbeing and create competent and responsible parents. This in turn prevents possible child neglect, in some cases breaking a cycle of harm and health inequalities that can be passed through generations.
Clients of the project have faced may struggles. A high number have grown up in care, sometimes following abuse at the hands of their own parents. Others have significant mental health issues.
According to family nurse Kisha Angus: “The partnership plays a vital role in supporting parents who are care leavers or have experienced significant neglect in their childhood. The intensive nature of the visits is proven to lead to safer outcomes for children in the borough.”
Through weekly or fortnightly visits, the family nurse builds a close rapport with the young person, giving them a continuity of care, they may not receive from standard universal health visiting services.
Before Bella’s baby arrived, the family nurse helped her prepare for the birth and transition to parenthood with information about everything from pain relief, infant feeding, and care in the early days to moving to solids and other key milestones. Her partner, the baby’s father, had mental health issues of his own and received support through the service, enabling him to have a positive role in the baby’s life.
If Bella hadn’t had this close therapeutic relationship with a family nurse, because of her life experiences there was a risk that her mental health could have suffered.”
Following her engagement with the family nurse partnership, Bella’s birth experience was a positive one, in hospital with her partner present. She developed a close bond with her baby and a thoughtful and sensitive parenting style, which included reading and playing with the child. As the baby grew Bella made sure all immunisations were given and that she introduced regular routines and a balanced diet.
According to Kisha: “If Bella hadn’t had this close therapeutic relationship with a family nurse, because of her life experiences there was a risk that her mental health could have suffered. This could then have impacted her baby’s development. Bella has made great progress – we can see that engagement with the programme has helped her become more resilient and improved her health significantly.”
*Not her real name.
Photo: Family nurse partnership team, l-r Lucy Smith, Kisha Angus, Judy King and Gemma McCann