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Keywords:

  • child abuse;
  • infant mental health;
  • maternal–infant attachment;
  • postnatal depression;
  • preventive medicine

Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of an early home-based intervention on the quality of maternal–infant attachment, maternal mood and child health parameters in a cohort of vulnerable families.

Methodology: A total of 181 families were recruited to the study in the immediate postnatal period on the basis of a self report questionnaire relating to known family vulnerability factors. Families were assigned randomly to intervention (90), or control (91) groups. The intervention group received a series of home visits from a child health nurse (weekly to 6 weeks, fortnightly to 3 months), with a subgroup receiving home based short-term dynamic therapy from a social worker. Parent/family function was assessed at inception and at 4 months by the Parenting Stress Index and the Edinburgh Post Natal Depression Scale. At 4 months the quality of the home environment was assessed, utilizing the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment Inventory, as were child and family health parameters and satisfaction with the community child health service.

Results: At 4 month follow-up, 160 families (80 intervention, 80 control) were available for assessment. The intervention improved family functioning at 4 months. All aspects of the home environment, including the quality of maternal–infant attachment and mothers’ relationship with their child, were significantly enhanced. In particular, significant and positive differences were found in parenting with the intervention group feeling less restrictions imposed by the parenting role, greater sense of competence in parenting, greater acceptability of the child, and the child being more likely to provide positive reinforcement to the parent. Early differences in maternal mood were not maintained at 4 months. Various child health parameters were enhanced including immunization status, fewer parent-reported injuries and bruising, and researcher confirmed lack of smoking in the house or around the infant. The families were consistently more satisfied with their community health service.

Conclusions: This form of early home based intervention targeted to vulnerable families promotes an environment conducive for infant mental and general health and hence long-term psychological and physical well-being, and is highly valued by the families who receive it.