The process of health visiting and its contribution to parental support in the Starting Well demonstration project

Authors


Jean McIntosh Professor of Community Nursing Research School of Nursing, Midwifery and Community Health Glasgow Caledonian University70 Cowcaddens Road Glasgow G4 0BA UK E-mail: J.McIntosh@gcal.ac.uk

Abstract

Significant resources are being directed at interventions designed to attenuate the effects of deprivation on children's health and development. The Starting Well demonstration project, established in two deprived areas within a Scottish city, aimed to show that a programme of planned activities to support families could improve child health. The project was subject to a main quantitative evaluation and several additional qualitative and mixed-method evaluations. The present paper draws on findings from one of the qualitative studies that sought to gain insight into how interventions provided by health visitors were operationalised and how they were perceived by parents. The particular focus of this paper is how the process of health visiting resulted in parents’ perceptions of being supported. A longitudinal design captured variation in work undertaken by health visitors and temporal changes in maternal experiences of child rearing. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 mothers and their health visitors at two time points, i.e. when infants were 3–4 and 9–10 months old. Sampling was ‘purposive’, and included first-time and experienced mothers. The findings reported here are based on 59 interviews carried out during 2002 and 2003. The analysis involved a thematic approach focused on programme implementation, and participant perceptions about process and benefit. Parental perceptions of being supported were exemplified by increased confidence in infant care, reduced anxiety regarding infant care needs, increases in knowledge and sense of personal competence in parenting practices, reduced isolation, and advocacy for those experiencing problems. A selection of the interactional processes that resulted in these forms of perceived support are reported, including methods of providing information, cautious and tactful questioning of maternal decision-making, and encouragement of successful parenting practice. The implications for practice, service delivery and targeting at the individual level are noted.

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