Nicolla Connolly , centre, receives the award

Nicolla Connolly , centre, receives the award

An innovative Buckinghamshire service that works to improve outcomes for vulnerable babies and children has won the ‘best service’ award at the first UK Infant Mental Health Awards.

The award was won by ReConnect, an Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust’s service that works with pregnant women and children during the most critical period of a child’s life: the first 1001 days from conception to age 2. Children who do not receive reliable, loving and responsive care during this crucial period are at risk of emotional neglect. This has a huge impact on the child’s ability to form a secure attachment with their parents.

The lack of a secure attachment early in life greatly increases the risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression later on. Such vulnerable children are also more likely to grow up to become neglectful parents themselves.

ReConnect works with parents and children at risk of these problems because of parental breakdown, neglect or abuse, or parental mental health problems that might affect a child’s emotional needs.

The service offers parents individual and group therapy, and reviews of parent-child interactions on video, to help parents develop a secure relationship with their children, and to help them understand how their own experience of being parented might affect their parenting abilities. The therapies also help children feel more secure in their relationship with their parents.

These early interventions can dramatically improve the life-chances of children who would otherwise be vulnerable to mental health and schooling problems later in life. Early intervention services like ReConnect can also reduce the chances of children needing to be taken into social care, as they work with a child’s birth parent to help them respond better to their child’s emotional needs.

ReConnect was recognized for its work at the UK’s first Infant Mental Health Awards, organized by the charity Parent Infant Partnership United Kingdom.

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust’s Dr Nicola Connolly, a consultant clinical psychologist at ReConnect, collected the award at a ceremony in London’s Westminster Hall on 9th June. The service won the Analeaf award for ‘Best Services’, which recognises an exceptional infant mental health provider who has demonstrated positive practice and improved outcomes for both children and families.

Dr Connolly said, “We are thrilled to receive this award and recognition for our work with improving children’s lives in Buckinghamshire. We hope to continue to work closely with Social Care and Health in identifying vulnerable children earlier on in pregnancy, so that we can reduce the risks of neglect post-birth”.