Background Improving early child development is a public health priority. In England just over 50% of children reach a ‘good level of development’ by the age of 5 years and child development is worse in more disadvantaged areas. Research shows the importance of responsive, sensitive and reflective caregiving in improving a child’s development and the need to support parents with this. As a result, the UK government provides parents with support via services including Health Visitors and children’s centres. However it is not clear how parents perceive the value of local parental support services and the barriers they face.
Aim To understand how caregivers of children from 0–2 years of age in a North West urban setting know and learn to be responsive, sensitive and reflective to their babies, where they go to for support and what services they value.
Methods We conducted 22 semi-structured interviews as well as 1 focus group discussion [FGD] with English speaking caregivers of children aged less than 2 years old recruited through Health Visitors, children’s centres or in the community. All interviews and FGD were transcribed and analysed using a thematic content approach.
Results 27 parents were interviewed, 21 mothers and 1 father. Parents spoke of requiring additional support with their responsive, sensitive and reflective care when their child was ill, with sleep routines, overcoming isolation and as single parents. Parents utilised a range of professional services and resources for support, as well as people within their family and community. It emerged that the three themes of ‘Relationships’, ‘Professionalism’ and ‘Experience’ were crucial factors in why parents used certain support networks and valued the support they received.
Conclusions In order to provide support for parents enabling them to be responsive, sensitive and reflective to their babies, services need to be driven much more on the relationships that experienced professionals make with parents. This includes providing more opportunities for continuity of care with one to one support which is responsive and there when needed. Children’s centres were a positive example of this, providing an accessible place where parents can access both professional and peer support.
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