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Innovative work showcased by international expert

​The work of an innovative team which provides targeted mental health support and specialist therapy to help families on the edge of care to stay together has been showcased in a new book.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s PIMHAT (Parent Infant Mental Health Attachment Team) has been included in Transforming Infant Wellbeing – Research, Policy and Practice for the first 1,001 Critical Days, which was published on 24 August.

The book has been edited by Penelope Leach, who is a research psychologist and one of the world's leading experts in child development. It includes 25 articles by experts in different aspects of infant development which highlight the importance of the first 1,001 days of life, and focuses on theory and research as well as practice currently taking place across the country.

PIMHAT was launched in 2015 and offers specialist therapy and targeted mental health support to the parents of babies up the age of two who live in Norfolk and are at risk of being taken into care.

A partnership between NSFT and Norfolk County Council, the service sees health and social services work together to support to parents who are finding it difficult to attach to their child, with the ultimate aim of reducing the number going through court proceedings and being taken into care. The team works from children’s services locality bases and children’s centres in Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.

Since its launch, it has helped around 80 families, with babies remaining with their parents in around 86% of the cases where therapeutic interventions were offered. Calculations show that if it helps just 15 children to remain at home each year it will have paid for itself, as the average annual cost of placing a child in care is very high.

It has also received good feedback from families. One mother who worked with PIMHAT and whose children no longer require social services involvement said “Prior to the work I did with PIMHAT, I didn’t even understand how important it was, to… strengthen their emotional wellbeing, and the impact we were all having on each other.”

Dr Richard Pratt, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Lead with PIMHAT, said: “We are delighted that our team is being used as an exemplar to illustrate the benefits which early intervention can bring to the whole family. It shows that the work which is taking place in Norfolk is innovative, effective, and an example of best practice.

“The article highlights the success we have had in addressing the mental health and attachment needs of the parent in order to strengthen the relationship with the baby. In the vast majority of cases, we have seen safeguarding concerns reduce following our intervention and the majority of babies able to remain with their birth families.

“Our chapter also underlines the importance of services working together and jointly considering the risks and needs of the family to find the best possible solutions.

“A strong attachment between a parent and their baby is vital as it helps the baby to feel safe and able to explore the world as they develop. Our aim is to work with our social care partners to support the parent, improve attachment and have a positive impact on the family’s emotional experiences during a crucial stage of the baby’s development, in turn helping them remain together.”

Penny Carpenter, Chairman of the Children’s Services Committee at Norfolk County Council, said: “Having a new child can be a difficult time for anyone, and parents who already have mental health problems or are going through emotional difficulties do not always find it easy to form a strong attachment to their new baby.

“This can lead to children becoming at risk of harm, but the good news is that we have seen families respond really well to being given intensive support at an early stage.

“This work is a wonderful example of how giving parents the right kind of help early on can enable families to stay together and build strong relationships.

“It is about caring for vulnerable children in Norfolk and keeping families together whenever possible, which is one of our priorities.”

The reception to launch the book will take place at the House of Commons on 9 October.

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