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From bump to baby steps: Supporting the transition to parenthood

Monday 16 August 2021
Mother and baby smiling

Becoming a parent isn't easy. Some parents need extra support. We spoke to Anita Jones, a midwife at our Baby Steps early years service, to hear what we’re doing to help

For disadvantaged families, early years services can be a lifeline. Through things like support sessions, children’s centres and play groups, families and their children are supported through the crucial first few years of life. It’s hard to understate their value.

Stepping into parenthood when you have added needs, or are already vulnerable, is tough – emotionally and physically. But through Baby Steps, we can help parents in need give their children the best start.

“We’re supporting them by giving them the tools they need to reach their potential as parents.”

Anita

Who we work with: supporting vulnerable families

In the UK today, 4.3 million children are living in poverty. One in five children live in families who find it a constant struggle to buy food and other essentials. This is the case for many families in Bradford, where we run the Baby Steps programme. Bradford, in North East England, has one of the highest child poverty rates in the UK.

Anita Jones - Baby Steps Programme

Anita Jones

“I’ve been a midwife for a long time,” said Anita, who works on the programme. “But I’ve never really come across homeless pregnant women before, and I have... in the Bradford area where we’re working. It is really, really upsetting.”

Many parents using the service have extra needs of some kind. Some are struggling with their emotional wellbeing. Others have had issues with drugs or alcohol. In many cases, it’s a financial difficulty.

“[They] cannot afford transport to get to the hospital…,” Anita added. “[They’re] not able to provide the essential items, nappies, things like that that you need for your baby. It’s really, really difficult for them, and it’s also difficult as a practitioner to see this.”

Since the pandemic, things have got more difficult still. Anita has increasingly turned to Action for Children’s emergency funding to help expectant parents in need buy basics for when the baby arrives.

“[A] hospital bag and some food bank parcels were given to us as we had no money to buy clothes for our baby. Thank you for all the support as I did not know who to ask for help. It was hard when you… feel isolated.”

TR, a Baby Steps parent

Why this work matters: families struggle without support

Despite their needs, many families face barriers in receiving appropriate antenatal care. People in areas like Bradford are less likely to access essential services. This may because families don’t how to access them, they don’t qualify, or there are just no services near them.

It’s vital that every parent feels confident and ready to do what’s best for their child. Parents are looking for more support. But when they can't find it, they can feel helpless, with nowhere to turn.

And it doesn’t just affect them. It has a knock-on effect on their children too.

Without early years services, we see children fall behind on their development, their emotional wellbeing suffers, and signs of abuse and neglect often go unnoticed.

Pregnant women in a class

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What we’re doing: more than just antenatal care

The Baby Steps programme consists of home visits and group sessions, during pregnancy and after birth.

Anita highlighted, “It’s more than just providing antenatal education… more than just labour, feeding and physical care. We cover the social, emotional, and mental health elements of pregnancy and parenthood too.”

This is because Anita works as part of a team, alongside a family support worker. Together they’re able to cover more than just the medical aspects of giving birth.

Each of Anita’s group sessions are interactive. Parents learn things like how they can recognise their baby’s communication cues. But it's also an opportunity to explore their hopes and concerns. It provides them with a space to navigate this upcoming change.

“Baby Steps programme has increased my confidence and knowledge in parenting. In the postnatal sessions, I felt proud… I was able to recognise my baby’s cues and feelings and learnt to respond in a positive way.”

Feedback from an anonymous parent

What we see: flourishing families

Anita can think of countless cases that showcase the positive impact of the service. Initial evaluations of the programme reflect this too. In various areas, including anxiety and parental relationships, parents reported improvements after taking part in Baby Steps.

Recalling a particularly successful story, Anita told us, “One of our mothers previously had her two children removed from her care. I think she knew why it happened, but she never had support before.”

“Fortunately, when she became pregnant with her third baby, she joined Baby Steps. So, we as a service offered her that support and help. She was able to keep her third child, and she’s back in contact with her other children too! Her confidence as a parent increased from joining Baby Steps.”

Mother and children together with play blocks.

Why we care: the importance of early years

The experiences children have in their early life affect them both in the moment and into the future.

“And that’s what we want to make sure parents understand…," Anita said."...how you are with your baby, the environment they're in and the people around them have an impact on the baby's brain development.”

The parents on the programme have been very receptive to learning this. The feedback received from parents echoes a lot of what Anita told us.

One parent shared: “Baby Steps programme has made me feel so welcome and supported… I have learnt how important [it] is for parents to [learn] about [their] baby’s brain development and [how] parents can influence their baby’s emotional health, confidence and self-esteem.”

You can help us do more

Every child deserves to have the best start in life, but unfortunately not every child gets this. Even before the pandemic, 4.3 million children were in poverty across the UK.

By donating to Action for Children, you could help us make sure more families get the support they need.

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