Relationship Support – Brief Encounters to Support Infant Mental Health

Relationship Support – Brief Encounters to Support Infant Mental Health

It is well documented that relationship quality between parents, including any unhelpful conflict, can have a negative effect on the development of babies and young children. This is especially true during the first 1001 days, from antenatal to age 2 years, which lays the foundations for both physical and mental wellbeing throughout the lifespan. This is particularly relevant in light of the fact that partners are more likely to experience conflict at times of significant transitions such as the birth of a baby, particularly your first child. While many programmes and much support is rightly available to support parents in their parenting role, the importance of the relationship between parents is often overlooked by those designing and developing services to support parents in bringing up their children

There is a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that early interventions are the most evidence & cost-effective way of transforming child & family outcomes. Last week, the Department of Education published the report of the Expert Panel on Educational Underachievement in Northern Ireland. A Fair Start, the final report and action plan from the panel made is an interesting read. The report recognises the importance of Early Years and the vital importance of existing services such as Sure Start, and calls for a redirection of focus into early years as well as championing emotional mental health and wellbeing.


Numerous times in its final report, the expert panel referenced the importance of supporting parents & families to better understand and support children’s development and prominence was also given to emotional health and a strategic approach to the provision of wellbeing support. Through Relate NI’s work in primary schools in Belfast, we are well aware of the impact on children, families and the wider school community of high-quality therapeutic support.

One particularly interesting action was proposed in the report: the Department of Health should expand the developmental role of the health visitor/community midwife programme to provide early support, education and signposting. Universal services such as midwifery and health visiting are vital resources for expectant and new parents, and the skills of those delivering this service have the potential to further improve outcomes for families and children. Relate NI believe that there is an opportunity to give every child the best start in life by including a focus on the inter-parental relationship in universal services such as these. A person experiencing relationship distress is most likely to turn to someone that they are already in routine contact with such as a midwife, health visitor or frontline practitioner. However, opportunities for early intervention are often missed because health visitors sometimes feel they don’t have the training to be able to discuss relationship issues and their impact on infant mental health or that it is not their role

With effective training, frontline practitioners can feel confident in how to handle conversations with parents about their relationship difficulties and refer appropriately to more specialised therapeutic services. By incorporating a couple dimension into health visiting practice, we can intervene earlier to support the quality of the parental couple relationship, and the subsequent mental health of parents during the perinatal period. This will lead to better outcomes for infant mental health by reducing exposure to potentially harmful levels of parental distress and conflict.

Our digital resource for supporting parents & relationships, created in partnership with The Parent Rooms, may be helpful further reading #IMHAW21

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“How Relate NI helps people”

“I found the Relationship MOT an excellent method of focusing on we work as a couple and just as importantly, where we need to work. It was professional, insightful and well worth the time. It has reminded us of how much we have to be proud of in our relationship and why it is so important to occasionally review it with experts.”Service Attended Relationship MOT
“I would definitely recommend using the Relationship MOT service as a bit of a check in with your partner. I thought how the counsellor was able to steer the conversation was very insightful and nuanced. The MOT reminded us about why we are great together but also the importance of communication and respect.” “Our counsellor provided an outside perspective which immediately helped us to agree that we needed to stop and think with more kindness and empathy for each other especially when stressed or pissed off. We both felt that our counsellor’s excellent and gentle facilitation was quite invigorating. So many positives!”Service Attended Relationship MOT 2
Very Interesting Content. I like the concept of preparing your relationship before you have problemsService Attended Sustaining Healthy Relationships – Surestart 4
The face to face programme has made me feel connected with others experiencing similar thingsService Attended Sustaining Healthy Relationships – Surestart 3
The workshops made me more confident to balance family life after the baby's arrivalService Attended Sustaining Healthy Relationships – Surestart 2
I now have a better understanding of myself, it is good to know that it is normal to have argumentsService Attended Sustaining Healthy Relationships – Surestart 1
I felt the weekly questionnaire, couples with the counsellor's understanding of my needs help contribute to my own understanding of my mental health and needs throughout.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Individuals
I loved every session. Our counsellor listened to what we had to say and gave us helpful wee homework - would recommend this service to everybodyService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Couples
Our counsellor was a fantastic support - we now feel strong enough to continue working on our relationship togetherService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Couples
I had a very good counsellor that helped me through a lot and it has made me come out the other side.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling for Individuals
Counselling took us from a bad place to a good one and I would return if neededService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Couples
Been a lifeline to help us fall in love again - forever grateful!Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Couples
I would just like to say that when I first came for counselling I felt that I was drowning.  I have completed my sessions and I now feel that I can cope a lot better with everything.  Thank you for a brilliant service.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Individuals
Thank you Relate NI for a good nights sleep.Service Attended Relate NI Kids Counselling
Really enjoyed Relate NI and I'm actually going to miss counselling.  I Found it helpful to find myself again. Very fair and equal within our relationship.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Couples
I appreciated the straightforward, helpful and informed observations about situations. It really helped me cope during Christmas which is a difficult time for usService Attended Family Counselling
The counsellor was very pleasant to meet with.  They had the necessary skills to speak and listen when appropriate.  I liked their humour and good personality.Service Attended Family Counselling
Relate NI has helped me move on as well as understand myself and situation more.  My counsellor listened to me, facilitated me and was compassionate!Service Attended Relate NI Teen Counselling
I felt the weekly questionnaire, coupled with counsellor's understanding of my needs helped contribute to my own understanding of my mental health and needs throughoutService Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Individuals
We had four funded sessions and cannot express how grateful we are for the help, guidance and knowledge. Our counsellor was incredibly professional, and her experience and obvious passion for helping couples like us was exceptional. She helped us to understand ourselves and each other like we otherwise never would have been able to.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Couples
I have tried counselling many times in the past. This time actually made a difference. I was able to complete online sessions as well as some face to face.Service Attended Adult Relationship Counselling For Individuals

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