“We’re changing the world – one baby at a time.” That’s the proud claim of the Family Nurse Partnership in Oxfordshire which is currently transforming the lives of 200 young families and their children.
From university students to 13-year-olds who don’t realise how they got pregnant, the service is for all first time parents aged 19 and under in Oxfordshire at the time of conception.
It equips them with the skills they should need to navigate their way through pregnancy, birth and the first two years of their baby’s life – with the aim of supporting mums – and the wider family – to improve child health and development.
Oxford Health’s specially trained Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) team of 11 identifies and manages safeguarding issues quickly and efficiently – all with the overarching aim of breaking any potential cycle of disadvantage.
Some of the young mums have not had good role models in their own lives; others are riding the emotional rollercoaster of being a teenager and pregnant while not necessarily being in safe relationships or equipped with the communication skills to express how they might be feeling, or how to cope.
Some of the young women have faced homelessness, abusive relationships, drug, alcohol and mental health issues – but the FNP nurses work in partnership with young mums – and the dads – regularly in their homes, offering tried and tested information from the early stages of pregnancy until their child is two.
Sally Godwin, Family Nurse Partnership supervisor, explains that mothers are put forward for help by midwives GPs, school and college nurses, parents, friends or they can make contact themselves with the team.
“A gift of the service is not telling someone you need it, rather it’s asking them if they’d like it.
“We try to recruit before 16 weeks of pregnancy. This programme has been used.in the USA for 40 years, so it’s well researched. So, we know that if you get in early in the pregnancy the outcomes are better.”
Each full time FNP nurse looks after up to 25 clients with each one having potentially 64 supportive visits during pregnancy, infancy and toddlerhood.
Family nurse Merry Patel, who has just been crowned Oxford Health’s Exceptional People Award winner for December 2019, says around 95 per cent of outcomes for her clients are good.
“It’s like working with a ball of Play-Doh at the beginning – you don’t know what’s going to be created together over our two-and-a-half year programme but I’m always aiming for things to be above the line.”
Merry uses a half filled drinking glass to visually demonstrate to young mums how their actions can top up the glass to above the line; or show them that when things aren’t going well and their child’s needs are not being met, the water level falls below the line.
She said: “The glass helped me show a young mum that what was happening to her little boy was not OK. I wanted to show her the difference of how he felt and behaved when things were going well and when things weren’t.
“So, I drew a line across the glass. Anything above the line is when things are going really, really well. I asked her what made things good. She told me that she and her son laughed, went to the park, had fun.
“I then asked her about the times when she didn’t feel like that and things were ‘under the line’. Invariably that was around the mental health needs of her partner and how it was when she didn’t have money, enough food etc. She would hide away, cancel appointments. It meant her toddler could see she wasn’t happy; he didn’t want to talk or play. His development was slowing and things were having a real negative impact.
“It’s only when she understood the impact on her child that she had the strength to do something about it. We work at the rockface of emotions. Some difficult decisions and conversations have to happen, but they do so to move a situation on.”
Sally added: “We’re funded because the outcomes are so good. We are a safeguarding service and the children end up with much better outcomes than if we weren’t involved.
“Our glasses are not always full when we’ve finished, they might be on the line still but it’s often enough.”
Visits by the FNP nurses try to be fun and creative and the team employs a variety of tools and videos, dolls to improve understanding.
Merry said: “We do a lovely thing called reading to baby. We often get told that a child isn’t interested and will just throw a book on the floor.
“So, we read to a doll and ask the mum to watch their baby’s reaction. We read with excitement and vigour and before you know it you’ve got their child on your lap trying to help you turn the pages over with this enlightened face beaming at you.”
To find out more about the FNP, visit www.oxfordhealth.nhs.uk; call 01865 904145 or email