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Scholar's Report

Travel: Comparing services and provision for young parents and their families in the United Kingdom and Australia; Improving health and wellbeing by supporting young parents and their families

2016/58 - Alison Owen Traynor

Abstract 

Background

The first five years of life are a crucial period for child health and development and a variety of services are available to support parents in these early years. Parenting support for young people is seen as a priority for policy makers in most Western countries and specialist projects set out to address the needs of teenage parents.

Some young parents face significant challenges as they transition from adolescence to adulthood and statistics show young parents and their children have a greater likelihood of experiencing poverty, poor physical and mental health, problems with substance misuse, low educational attainment and lower rates of economic activity in later life.

The diverse needs of the client group are well documented (Public Health England 2015, Trueland 2103, Duffin 2013) acknowledging the complexity within a health and social care context; this includes the challenge faced in engagement and building relationships as young parents (and parents to be) are reluctant to access mainstream services (Thompson and Wood 2012) .

A range of different initiatives and projects are provided to meet the specific needs of young parents by supporting health, social, educational, emotional and financial needs of teenage parents with an overall aim of improving the quality of life for both themselves and their children. In the UK evidence based models provide support to young parents through initiatives that aim to improve life chances by supporting mental, social and emotional development. Although identified as challenging work, analysis of outcome measures demonstrates a value in these services; the long term benefits of improving outcomes are predicted to balance out the cost of these intensive support programmes.

Specialised provision is required to address the complex needs and support young people as they transition to adulthood and parenthood.

The purpose of the study was to observe identified services supporting young parents and their families and learn how best to address the complex needs. Evidence based practice was observed including the implementation of a specialist support service together with an exploration of policy and work at an organisational level. The Florence Nightingale Foundation Travel Scholarship and The Welsh Government Travel Scholarship provided an opportunity to study practice in the United Kingdom (UK) and overseas with the aim of enhancing the care provided to young parents and improve health and wellbeing outcomes for them and their children in the UK and specifically in Wales. Whilst the study focus initially was on young parents considering the ante-natal period is vital.

Visits were made to the following hospitals, family centres, youth services and universities in order to gather information to help meet the aim of the study and identify the key components of successful services for young parents and how best to implement the evidence.

Informal interviews were held with key players in all sites and I observed practice in the family and youth centres. Reflection during the visits, and on return, informed the analysis of the information gathered.

Findings

Not surprisingly the problems faced by young parents in the UK are similar to those faced abroad. The key characteristics of the successful projects included effective leadership and highly motivated staff who had a passion for and enjoyed working with young people. Collaborative multiagency partnerships can be difficult to achieve especially where the needs of the client group are diverse however the models observed were based on one site and provided a range of services which set out to address health and social care needs together with support for child care and education. Overall it was observed that there was an overt non-judgemental approach with a public health ethos which engaged young parents and supported their development. Key to improving outcomes for future generations is the community-based, collaborative support program engaging with young mothers, their children and pregnant young women from diverse backgrounds. The Talking Realities… young parenting program is an award winning community based support project in South Australia; designed to meet local community needs it aims to improve the social, health and education outcomes for young parents and their children with a focus on supporting young people to attend school. Models used include group work and peer education which supports young parents to make informed choices regarding early parenthood.

Recommendations

Conclusion

The travel scholarship has provided a wealth of experience which has widened knowledge and understanding both in the specific needs of young parents and how best to address the needs. The lessons learnt will inform local practice and provide a platform for further research.