Supervision is a powerhouse behind parent-infant support

Dr Matt Price (Clinical Advisor, Department of Health and Social Care) explains why the launch of the National Centre of Supervision for Parent-Infant Relationship Support is an important milestone in the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme. He describes how it will grow expertise in supporting parent-infant relationships across participating local authorities and help give every baby the best start for life.

Research on the importance of the 1,001 days from conception until a baby’s second birthday is clear: this is a critical time for development. Our experiences in this time shape the adults we’ll become and lay the foundations of future health and mental health outcomes.

The government is committed to helping parents and carers give every baby the best start for life. The Family Hubs and Start for Life programme launched in August 2022, and is delivering a step change in outcomes for babies, children, and their parents and carers in 75 local authorities across England.

An important element of the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme is parent-infant relationships. All participating local authorities received additional funding to support perinatal mental health and parent-infant relationships. The launch of the National Centre of Supervision for Parent-Infant Relationships is a crucial support structure for these local areas.

Good relationships between babies and their parents and carers are essential.

Central to a baby’s development in this critical time is the relationship they have with the person or people who care for them the most. The experiences a baby has shape their developing brain. When a baby receives consistent, warm, and ‘good enough’ care they are more likely to thrive across a range of developmental outcomes.

For many parents and carers, the informal support of friends and family is enough to help them meet their babies needs. However, there are lots of reasons why a parent or carer may struggle. For example, perinatal mental health difficulties to a parent’s own experiences of adversity in life. In these cases, parents and carers can benefit from additional support to meet their baby’s needs and build a secure attachment relationship.

Supporting parent-infant relationships can be complex and challenging work for frontline practitioners.

The task of supporting parents and carers to meet their baby’s social and emotional needs is a rewarding one. Often, we see the love and connection grow between babies and their parents and carers. However, it can also be complex and challenging work.

Practitioners supporting parent-infant relationships need to understand the detail of how babies communicate, how they develop, and how they might show us if they are struggling in their relationships. Equally, they need to be skilled at sensitively and compassionately supporting parents and carers during this uniquely challenging and important time.

If we believe that parents and carers deserve to be supported with warmth and compassion, then we must also extend the same offer to the dedicated workforce supporting parent-infant relationships too.

Supervision helps those supporting parent-infant relationships to learn, grow, and give every baby the best start for life.

Supervision is the process of helping practitioners to reflect on their work with the aim of improving their knowledge, skills, and confidence. In turn, access to good supervision will support the delivery of high quality of the work with babies and their parents and carers. With this in mind, it is not a stretch to say that supervision is the powerhouse behind parent-infant relationship support.