Help or hindrance? Single, unsupported mothers’ perceptions of health visiting


Knott 5 Shepherds Road, Watford, Herts WD1 7HU, England.


Help or hindrance? Single, unsupported mothers’ perceptions of health visiting

Although there have been studies of clients’ perceptions of health visiting, the views of single, unsupported mothers about the health visiting service have been under-researched. Therefore, this study investigated their views using semi-structured interviews with 12 single, unsupported mothers identified by health visitors within one National Health Service Community Trust. The data were analysed using Burnard’s (1991) thematic content analysis, which enabled a number of identifiable themes to emerge. Findings showed that the participants perceived the health visiting service as being concerned almost exclusively with babies and there was a general lack of understanding about the broader role of the health visitor. Clinics were seen as places to visit to weigh the baby but not as a contact point with a health visitor. Some health visitors were perceived as being judgemental in attitude and not necessarily interested in the clients as individuals. Participants considered that health visitors should be friendly, interested, able to promote their confidence and offer individualized advice. Overall the study suggests that health visitors may not be utilizing all dimensions of their role with single, unsupported mothers and may not be communicating effectively with them about this. The study also shows that single, unsupported mothers wish to be treated in the same way as other mothers but at present some feel that they are stigmatized and treated differently. The paper concludes with an outline of the implications of the findings and recommendations for practice and future research.