Earlier this year I was given the massive news that I had been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship (http://www.wcmt.org.uk/categories/early-years-prevention-intervention). This meant I could travel to learn more about the topic I feel most passionately about (parent infant projects!) to anywhere I wanted to go in the world (I chose the inspiring city of New York and around).
It was astonishing news, as over 1000 people apply for the Fellowships. In my mind, it had been only ever a long shot - to follow a dream and my passion for early intervention with babies and their parents.
Right now I am preparing to leave on the 1st November for this adventure and still cannot believe my luck (or actually that it is even quite real) and that I have been granted the honour of this trip.
The mission: to travel and and gather knowledge, understanding, and practical skills in the field of parent infant projects, specifically how to reach those families who might not necessarily come forward and speak out and demand support for their parent infant relationship - yet who possibly need it the most.
The plan: to visit, talk, listen and learn from as many knowledgeable and inspiring people - active in the field of early intervention, infant mental health, and parent infant therapy - as possible. Traveling around Manhattan, Harlem, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island and visiting teaching colleges such as Columbia University, The New York Center for Child Development and the New School for Social Research in New York.
The aim: To develop insight into how to reach those families we really need to reach, and bring this back to the U.K.
My mission is to provide Parent Infant Psychotherapy to all families who need this in a timely and accessible way. I find the damage done to some of our children heart breaking and I believe parent and baby work can begin to prevent damage. I question passionately, why, with our current attachment research and knowledge base, would we go with an illness model (let's wait until children get mentally unwell and then address the issue) rather than a wellness and preventative model. There has been (a rather long!) campaign to be heard and to get investment in Parent Infant Psychotherapy here in Brighton. One of our stumbling blocks is that different narratives exist locally and nationally which may distort perceptions or confuse those with commissioning intentions such as ‘there is not a need’, 'we have no money' and 'it is covered already'.
We know there is a need, that coverage is patchy and that it costs more to neglect this need (see http://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/costs-of-perinatal-mh-problems) locally and nationally. It is very helpful to have the PIP UK network supporting our pilot and helping us to get this message across so that our PIP can get funding. Here are three things people should know about most areas of the UK and why there is a need for Parent Infant Partnerships:
1. Big need, little provision
There are some innovative services emerging but, considering the level of prevention that could be happening as compared to what is happening, there is staggeringly little out there. For example, in Brighton and Hove, there are 3,300 babies born each year. It is estimated by the WAVE Trust (a charity set up to set up to tackle the root causes of damaging family cycles including child abuse and neglect) that 495 of these 3,300 children will go on to develop ‘disorganised attachment’ which is linked to elevated risks of aggressive behaviours, mental disorders, school behaviour problems and other psychopathologies. That is 15% of our children.
2. Not noticed early, then it’s too late
Last week I received a private referral from a family with a 1 year-old child. Her first birthday had intensified distressing memories. The child and both parents are suffering post-traumatic symptoms from the birth and necessary (but frightening) medical interventions that followed. They have spent a year with undiagnosed ‘attachment problems’. The situation is serious but it can be resolved - luckily they have found and can afford PIP - otherwise we are likely to have met this family in CAMHS in several years’ time. It would have been ethical, timely and less costly for the family on every level if this PIP intervention were statutory and had happened a year ago.
3. Not fair, not equal
A parent having a baby in one area does not have equal access to provision as another parent just down the road. For example, an asylum seeking single parent with high need and risk referred to me in my previous NHS PIP service was then moved to the next borough along. This area had no PIP provision. Luckily we were still able to offer an intervention. As it stood, without intervention, I would have had serious concerns about this child and his development. Families are at risk due to patchy provision.