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Joint venture helps vulnerable families stay together

An innovative project which aims to help Norfolk families stay together by providing vulnerable parents with targeted mental health support has had a successful first six months, with no babies on the scheme coming into care.

The Norfolk Parent Infant Mental Health Attachment Project (NPIMHAP) has seen a team of therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, health professionals and family support workers liaise to provide parents with a specially tailored package of support designed to improve their relationship with their baby.

A joint initiative between Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) and Norfolk County Council, it works specifically with mums at risk of post-natal depression and psychosis, as well as those who have difficulty forming attachments with their children.

It was launched in response to the high numbers of children aged under two who are in care in Norfolk, and has been made possible by a £625,000 Transformational Challenge award from the Department of Communities and Local Government.

Families are referred to the scheme if there are safeguarding concerns about their children and they have high emotional and mental health needs. Many of the families receiving support have had other children taken into care.

Since its creation, the project has benefitted more than 40 families and contributed to a 27% reduction in babies in care – with 16 fewer children under two now in care compared with the same period last year.

Dr Richard Pratt, Clinical Psychologist with NSFT, said: “This innovative project aims to provide therapeutic help and joined up services for parents who have high emotional and mental health needs and may be struggling to bond with their babies.

"By supporting those parents and improving attachment, our aim is to 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.

“Feedback so far has been positive, with some parents telling us they are finding the sessions helpful in a way they have not experienced before. This is partially because of the flexibility of the service and the outreach nature of the work – rather than expecting parents to come to a clinic, we are taking help directly to them.

“As well as making the service more convenient for parents, bringing health and social care staff together is also helping us improve communication between organisations and work in collaboration more effectively. This can only be a good thing as ultimately the more services are connected up, the more likely they are going to be successful and helpful for families.”

The project is based in three children’s centres – Norwich, King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth – and sees staff work intensively with families where a specific safeguarding concern has been raised to reduce the number of children going through court proceedings and ultimately being taken into care.

Project leads are now hoping to secure funding to extend the initiative into future years after it was shown to be successful with many of the families involved.

James Joyce, Chairman of the Children’s Services Committee at Norfolk County Council, said: “We know that the post-natal period can be a particularly difficult time for parents and, for those who are already experiencing mental illness or experiencing emotional difficulties, it can be very hard to form an attachment with their new baby.

“In some cases this can place the children at risk of harm and we know that these families need very intensive support to help them to stay together.

“This project has had considerable early success in giving them the therapy that can make a big difference to their lives and the lives of their children. It is helping families to stay together and supporting some of the county’s most vulnerable children, which is a key priority for us.”