Space for parents and children to grow together

Ella Rhodes reports.

February saw the eighth annual Children’s Mental Health Week – launched by charity Place2Be – with the theme of ‘growing together’. Meanwhile, psychologists have been involved in activities and research to highlight areas of need in the mental health care of children and families.

In Scotland health psychologist Heather Connolly gave evidence at a Holyrood inquiry into children and young people’s health and wellbeing. Launched by the Scottish government’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee the inquiry has been exploring the impact of child poverty, inequality, experiences of being raised in care, mental health, and health and wellbeing in schools. 

Connolly said that the stress, burden, and moral injury of the workforce had an impact on staff’s ability to deliver person-centred care. In a British Psychological Society statement she said that Covid had hit children and young people particularly hard, and she was pleased to share a psychological perspective with the committee. ‘It is vital that we consider all the wider determinants that impact our children and young people’s health and wellbeing, including poverty, physical activity, diet and social connections. We know that to best support our children and young people’s health and wellbeing early intervention is key. But in order to make really impactful early interventions, services and support must be psychologically informed. If we can pull on a lot of the information, knowledge and theories from behaviour and health psychology, we can improve how we deliver these services and are more likely to see positive outcomes.’

At home with children

At the University of Dundee and Newcastle University, researchers on the At Home with Children study (funded by the UKRI/AHRC Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund) have run surveys and interviews with families in England and Scotland, about the impact of domestic space on children and young people during the pandemic. 

Dr Emily Pattinson (Newcastle University) has been working on the research team and told the BPS that psychologists were well placed to explore the links between domestic space and mental health. ‘The idea of a “new normal” that includes schooling and working from home demands a re-think of domestic space design as dwellings for children and their families are stretched beyond original capacities, affecting mental health, productivity and wellbeing.’ The study is expected to provide an evidence-based framework which can be used to evaluate domestic standards for new housing in the UK and produce a toolkit for families to ensure the best home set-up to protect their health and wellbeing.

Pandemic parenting

Meanwhile the universities of Sheffield and Warwick, along with the National Childbirth Trust, launched a study to explore the experiences of those who became parents during the pandemic. The study’s three lead researchers – Dr Emma Blakey and Dr Fiona Scott (University of Sheffield) and Dr Michelle McGillion (University of Warwick) – all became parents for the first time during the pandemic. They said they had witnessed reduced healthcare provision, a lack of social support and fewer opportunities to meet other parents.

The researchers are inviting new parents of infants – biological, adoptive, or fostered – to share anonymous accounts of their experiences in the period before the arrival of their child, the birth or arrival of their child, and the period after their child arrived. Blakey, a Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, said: ‘When we decided to launch this project, we all felt from our own experiences that there was so much to say, but not enough out there support-wise during the pandemic, so one of our main aims was to create a safe space for new parents to share their experiences and read others’ accounts.’

Blakey added that this has been an incredibly hard time to become a new parent. ‘New parenthood in ordinary times can be a vulnerable time, but add in the isolation, feelings of fear and uncertainty, and lack of access to support services and we can see how this would have a big impact on parents’ wellbeing. I remember the first playgroup I was able to go to when my baby was a year old and appreciating the chance to speak to other new parents about their experiences. There was such an outpouring of emotion and sharing of personal stories and I realised that many parents had not been able to share and process their experiences. From this, I felt a strong need to document these experiences and identify how parents can be best supported now.’

For more information and to take part in the Pandemic Parenting study contact [email protected] or click here

Read more about the At Home with Children study

Find out more about the Scottish Government inquiry into the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

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