Parents in Mind – all systems go!

NCT’s Parents in Mind team have been doing a little happy dance this week, as we’ve reached a significant milestone for the project. All three pilot sites are now up and running, with the first referrals received for women in Newham to access perinatal mental health peer support. This really is a fantastic feeling for the whole team, who have worked so hard to get to this point.

As a pilot project, the Department of Health tasked us with developing a safe, effective and sustainable model of perinatal mental health peer support. We worked with the Institute of Health Visiting to train perinatal mental health champions within NCT, developed a training programme for volunteer peer supporters, recruited three wonderful local service delivery managers, and worked with our academic partners at City University and Kings College London to develop the evaluation framework and tools.

All of this work had to happen before we could begin actual volunteer recruitment and service delivery, and took considerable time and effort. This part of service development and piloting often remains hidden from view, but it’s critical to the success of the project – making sure we build upon what’s already known, develop the ‘service packaging’ which will keep volunteers and service users safe and supported, and can capture the learning and outcomes of the project.

We staggered implementation across the three pilot sites, starting in Coventry and Warwick, then Halton and finally Newham. This meant that we could take the learning from one site into the next, and also made it more feasible to deliver as a whole. And so we are now up to our full set of three pilot sites!

Before Christmas, I spent the most wonderful morning visiting Parents in Mind in Newham, where the newly trained peer supporters got together to celebrate completing their volunteer training. They reflected on their experiences, and shared their plans and hopes for supporting women in 2018. They were joined by recently trained breastfeeding peer supporters, who talked through their early experiences of supporting women in the community and on postnatal wards. They shared such powerful stories of supporting women, often in very challenging circumstances, with time, patience and kindness.

I sensed the close friendships formed amongst the volunteers, the support they are providing each other, and the diversity of experience in the room. I heard how their own confidence and sense of belonging had grown during the training, and of their commitment to supporting women locally. I watched how the peer support trainer (Andrea Weyand), service delivery manager (Belinda Ngugi) and local NCT branch coordinator (Kelly Drake) so expertly facilitated and supported the group. It was truly remarkable. I left wanting to bottle it up, and share it up and down the country. And hopefully one day we will!

During this final year of the Department of Health funded pilot period, we have a lot of work to do. We’re focusing on making the service as accessible as possible to women across the three sites, whether by self-referral or via a health professional. We’ll be continuing to monitor progress and outcomes for women, and to capture the learning about what’s working well and what could be improved. And we’ll be focusing hard on sustainability – how to bottle the magic, and demonstrate the quality and value of the support on offer.

At NCT, we have a shared vision of no parent left isolated and all parents supported. Working on this project –  hearing the very real experiences of women affected by perinatal mental illness, the fear and stigma that surrounds it, and the difference that peer support can make – I feel renewed conviction of the crucial role that we can play in improving experiences of pregnancy, birth and parenthood.

If you’d like to learn more about the project or are interested in working with us as an early adopter of the service in your region, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with Melissa Briscoe, NCT’s PNMH National Project Manager: Melissa.briscoe@nct.org.uk

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