Enhancing professional services with perinatal peer support
18 March 2020 | Celia Suppiah, CEO Parents 1st and QNI Fellow
The benefits of quality peer support to mothers, fathers, babies and communities are profound. For this reason, Parents 1st UK has just launched a brand-new website to enable effective perinatal volunteering and peer support programmes to flourish.
It’s an on-line community where anyone and everyone can share their ideas, learning, know-how and resources and support each other to develop more perinatal peer support and the benefits it provides. And there is extensive guidance with FREE tools to download – all designed to help get a new initiative up and running or develop an existing one.
The founder of Parents 1st, Celia Suppiah, is a public health nurse, QNI Fellow and previous midwife. She has spent the past 30 years developing early prevention ‘Community Parent’ volunteer programmes within and outside the NHS. This includes a high-quality perinatal volunteer programme developed in Essex over the past 10 years and two affiliate programmes in Tower Hamlets and Derby.
The public service ethos that was at the heart of her experience when working for the NHS, has remained despite resigning from the NHS in 2008 to set up Parents 1st social enterprise. For Celia, the need to generate a profit in order to survive and to protect intellectual property rights has always felt at odds with a need to share knowledge, skills and experience for the benefit of others – and in so doing enabling more parents and babies to benefit from quality perinatal peer support, which is the core mission of Parents 1st.
We believe that organisations delivering these valuable initiatives should collaborate, network and learn from each other. We also want to inspire funders and commissioners to invest in early prevention so that more parents and babies can benefit during this critical life transition.Celia Suppiah, CEO Parents 1st UK
There is overwhelming evidence that volunteer peer support initiatives are making real improvements to personalised care, leading to achieving healthier pregnancies, less complicated births and happier babies. Also, we know that when these initiatives are managed, resourced and delivered well, there are huge benefits not only to mothers, fathers, partners, and babies but also to professionals involved in their care.
Statutory maternity services face multiple challenges, including the increased pressures on midwives, health visitors, early years’ and social workers to deliver the individualised, personal support that many parents need. Peer support is very different to professional support, but it does work in tandem and help to relieve pressure on public services.
Informal support and reassurance from another (trained, supervised and carefully recruited) parent who listens and builds trust, can make the difference of a lifetime for both mother and baby through enhancing even further, the value that professionals bring. Drawing on personal experience or shared characteristics, quality peer support can provide knowledge, emotional support, practical help and social interaction. Mothers, fathers and partners feel supported, prepare for changes ahead, and feel less stressed.
Furthermore, marginalised parents can be wary of professionals. Informal support from a well-trained and supervised volunteer can help bridge this gap. A trusting peer relationship can be built that helps a vulnerable pregnant woman navigate and engage with services when she otherwise might not. Supporting her to communicate her needs more effectively with professionals involved in her care can make all the difference.
We refer to the Pregnancy Pal and Birth Buddy programme with complete confidence that these ladies will receive the best possible support. Knowing they are supporting one of our ladies reassures us because we know that for some women – it’s all they have. The peer support fills a void for some women and for some they are a lifeline. The peer supporters don’t judge...women know this and feel safe. Peer support enhances the pregnancy experience in terms of support and parenting education. The peer supporters offer a service that is invaluable to our team.
Vicky Stewart. Specialist Midwife for Drug and Alcohol Misuse and Perinatal Mental Health. Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Trust
However, peer support programmes are facing difficult times and, in spite of growing evidence, it is still the norm that peer support remains largely unrecognised and unfunded and many struggle to survive.
As we enter a new decade, Parents 1st UK is a new charity with a mission to change this picture. We want more quality perinatal peer support initiatives to flourish but we understand the barriers (time, resource, knowledge) that can get in the way. We have created a new “open access” website (being launched in March this year) that shares the Community Parent perinatal volunteer model and everything we have learnt about making it work in practice over several decades.
- CONNECT: Find and connect with members, understand more about the benefits of peer support and how it can support parents, babies, families and communities.
- LEARN: We guide users through a 5-stage, evidence-based process for both existing and new programmes. We describe different volunteering models and provide a wealth of free in-depth, practice guides and videos where expert practitioners, volunteers and parents share their insights and experiences.
- SHARE: Start conversations, share ideas and resources and collaborate with the community to co-produce solutions to any problems or challenges you come up against.
- DOWNLOAD: Find 100s of free resources to download to ‘hit the ground running’.
Intended to be a hub for a community of peer support advocates, we are confident that it will lead to more parents getting the support and encouragement they deserve during this critical time in their lives.
To find out more, visit: www.parents1st.org.uk. You can also follow @parents1st on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.