Shelley here from Derby Community Parent Programme!
Well where shall I start?... what a crazy couple of months!
I started my new role as Community
Co-ordinator alongside my amazing colleague Emma as 1-1 Co-ordinator in February - so this has been a real baptism of fire for us! We knew our new roles would bring challenges but must admit we never envisaged a Pandemic! However - never ones to shy away from a challenge we quickly started to look at ways we could ensure that our parents and volunteers remained well supported during these strange and worrying times.
We made the decision early on to postpone all face to face and 1-1 support in order to prioritise the safety of the parents and the volunteers. This wasn't an easy decision by any means - particularly when you have to balance your heart with your head.
Our first thoughts turned to how we could support our volunteers to provide effective support when they couldn't visit or attend appointments, labour & birth with the parents. We are lucky to have an amazing maternity team - and we remained in contact with them throughout so we knew that the women would be nurtured and well supported at the hospitals. We decided that it was important to focus our support on empowering parents to be open & honest with professionals so that they could support them effectively. We knew the midwives would listen - we had to ensure the parents felt able to talk. This is always been an essential part of peer support - but it seemed even more important when we would be unable to be there in person to prompt and encourage.
So lots of focus on birth planning, on helping women and their partners think about what was important to them and how they could relay those wishes to the professionals. It also felt really important to ensure families would understand what was going on during labour & birth, so extra time was spent discussing & unpicking pain relief options, birth positions etc . We encouraged volunteers to try and use video calls wherever possible - we are lucky that our volunteers are all equipped with volunteer mobile phones so they were able to do this easily. We also encouraged that they tried to continue to book time ahead in their diaries to dedicate and focus on the peer support - a huge challenge when juggling work, home schooling, families & partners - we found a great tip is to do peer support calls in your car if possible! We encouraged volunteers to think about posting inspiring & motivating cards for parents to receive through the post.
I cant lie - I've been absolutely blown away by how well the support is working even when being delivered remotely. I thought that it would be a real struggle for us to do assessments over the phone and that parents would not feel as supported as they normally do. However, people have been opening up to us well - there may be something in the level of anonymity that a telephone call provides which makes it easier to open up. The feedback from parents who have accessed 1-1 support has been overwhelmingly positive - they appreciate someone being there just for them more than ever. We are seeing improvements in our scores - and receiving some amazing words of thanks & gratitude.
One thing we have noticed during COVID-19 support is that we are seeing more safeguarding disclosures to peer supporters than ever before - we have a robust system in place to make sure that volunteers are well equipped to deal with these and usually end up supporting the parent to disclose this information to the right professionals themselves. This empowers the parent to own their story and to see the positives in accepting support for these disclosures.
We have arranged for vulnerable parents to access food deliveries from local communities & worked with others to provide & deliver 'Baby Bundlez' to vulnerable parents - including things like breast pads, maternity pads, nappies, cotton wool & facemasks for mums to be. We are looking at ways to include notepads, crayons and mindfulness aids in the future.
A huge part of the peer support programme in Derby is Community Support (outreach) with volunteers committing to provide a minimum of 2 hours community support in a range of settings. They host free, weekly coffee mornings both in the community at the hospital pre & postnatal ward. Our volunteers also visit the Neo-natal Ward, Mother & Baby Mental Health unit and Antenatal clinics. Obviously this all had to be put on hold - we worked closely with the Head of Maternity to set up a safe & secure closed Facebook Group for health professionals to refer expectant & new parents into where our volunteers host daily community peer support slots. We have guest hosts slots filled by Community & Labour ward midwives and other health professionals. We also decided that we would set up a Dads Space facebook group - where dads can access peer support in safe & secure way. We felt this was particularly important as Dads aren't supported by health professionals in a clinical way during the ante-natal period. With an NCT survey showing that nearly 40% of new Dads had concerns around their mental health - it felt more important than ever that we supported fathers to be on their journey into parenthood.
Throughout this period of change - our thoughts quickly turned to how we could ensure that our volunteers remained well supported. After all - our latest cohort of volunteers had literally just wrapped up their training and even though we cover most topics during training - we hadn't done a pandemic module! We increased our check in phone calls to weekly and continued with our regular supervisions. We decided to ensure that we reminded the volunteers to look after themselves & that they can't pour from an empty cup. We (safely) delivered care packages to all of the volunteers - with candles, face masks, chocolate and tokens of appreciation - as a Thank you for their hard work and also to encourage them to take time for themselves and recharge their batteries amongst caring for everyone else.
We arranged for our Volunteer Rep to contact all of the volunteers individually and enable them with a platform to provide anonymous feedback and raise any questions or concerns which we addressed and discussed over several Zoom calls.
We are continuing to deliver our Continued Learning sessions to volunteers via Zoom - and continue to co-facilitate these with other professionals - our next session is co-hosted by an Infant Feeding Specialist Midwife, and then the next one by a Housing Support worker.
So I suppose in answer to the questions - What are we finding?
We are finding that parents still need support, and the support looks and feels very different to before COVID-19. We are finding that in times of extreme pressure on Statutory Services - Peer support is playing a bigger part than ever before in providing parents with a safe and nurturing support system. Yes it looks a little different from before, and its far from ideal at present - however, it is still in essence about being there for someone, empowering them with up to date, evidence based information and encouraging them to be open & honest with themselves & professionals. We are finding that support works when the parent feels supported and that is still happening - the magic of peer support is still to be found!
We are learning ways of being creative in how we provide support - we are learning just how resilient our staff, volunteers and the parents are in the face of some of the biggest challenges we have ever faced. The challenges now to overcome are how to sustain these changes, how to keep volunteers motivated, how to recruit & train our next cohort and how to gradually (and safely) make the transition back to face to face support and birth support?
So lots of challenges ahead - but all in all I hope that we will continue to face these challenges head on and with the passion, teamwork and tenacity that have carried us through so far!
Wow Shelley - what an amazing job you are all doing in Derby! Your passion and commitment absolutely shine through - what a fabulous resource you all are for mums, dads and babies living in your area. Love the idea about posting inspiring and motivating cards to parents and I love the way you are 'filling the cup' for volunteers - so important that they know how much they are valued
Finally taking a breath to put pen to paper! What a journey it has been over this past 2 months.
We have found that women have jumped at the chance to do online Pilates and our instructors and development worker have been fantastic at learning and delivering the classes on line. We are getting greater numbers than before and its great fun sometimes having not only mum and babies but dogs and cats in the classes with us!
The one to one referrals have taken a dip, however it has given us new opportunities to connect with our stakeholders and we are hopeful that using the amended on line referral form some of the teams will start to use this system. Midwives are particularly busy, and have temporary staff doing bookings, however after some training they are now happily referring to us.
The team being apart and working from home has actually led to new systems of communication, weekly team meetings and heaps of creativity.
We have set up a closed facebook group which has 54 members now. The weekly coffee mornings have kept going and we have been able to include regular posts on topical issues. It is a challenge to get the mums to engage but it is reassuring for them to have a place where they can ask questions if they need to. We are aiming to start our Workshops on line in June and hope that we get plenty of takers from within our closed group, exercise class attendees and referred mums and dads.
The Volunteers have all been pretty busy home-schooling their children. We have contacted them one on one to give them extra support and next week we will hold our first group supervision via zoom.
I think overall they have done a great job at keeping up with their families , but are definitely understandingly focused on their own children at this time.
So in summary, its been step by step ,have a go, keep on trying and most of all keep talking to each other!!
The great thing is that you are embracing the change and adapting so quickly. So impressed with all the creative ideas! It's not been easy but we're all rising to the challenge and discovering new ways of working with mums and dads. Some of the on-line and remote support we are now delivering will become part of the new 'normal' moving forward. We are constantly learning and starting to think about new online volunteering roles that can be fitted around family commitments more easily. Lots of work going on around adapting current training for new volunteers to shorter chunks. Watch this space!