Positive Relationships: Parents' Group - Cot gossip

Annette Rawstrone
Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mothers bond with each other as well as their babies in sessions at a children's centre informed by expert talks. Annette Rawstrone reports.

Cot Gossip is proving a hit with new mothers in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. The weekly afternoon drop-in session, based at Riversley Park Children's Centre, lives up to its quirky name by creating an opportunity for parents and multi-agency practitioners to get together in an informal setting to chat and exchange ideas and information.

The two-hour group is aimed at parents with children aged up to 15 months old. Numbers vary, but 30 parents, mainly mothers, and their babies tend to attend each week. They are spread across two rooms - one for babies before they are mobile and the other for those who have started crawling.

Family support worker Ginny Casey says, 'It is lovely for the new mums to get together with others for peer support. The friendships that develop between them are fantastic. Having a baby is such a big life change. It can be a worrying time, there is so much new mothers want to ask and they can feel lonely. These sessions help to reassure and support parents.'

The rooms are carefully planned to create plenty of play opportunities. They change every month, but can include a quiet area with dimmed lighting, mirrored area, a section with a projector showing different colours, and a black and white area. Laminated notices explain the area's themes, such as that babies focus on bold, contrasting colours and how black and white can held babies to develop their visual muscles.

'We explain that babies want to relax at times and do not need stimulation all the time,' says Ms Casey. 'The rooms are set out beautifully, and parents like to see the different ideas because they can also do them at home.'

Childcare workers help the parents to play and learn alongside their children and offer age-appropriate advice. A family support worker is also present each week to offer help and advice. The area has a high Asian population and recently a large influx of Polish people, so interpreters are brought in to assist when needed.

Information exchange

A Cot Gossip highlight is the weekly 20-minute 'topic talk', given by one of a range of inter-agency workers. The three-month programme includes issues such as a children's centre teacher talking about creating a stimulating home environment, health visitors advising on immunisation or weaning, the fire and rescue service talking about home safety, speech and language therapists discussing baby babble and how to get babies talking, St John Ambulance on what to do if a child is choking, and the library service introducing books for babies.

'The parents get a lot out of the sessions and learn so much,' says Ms Casey. 'The comments are really positive, and they are able to listen to other people's questions and discuss the issues among themselves.'

Information boards and posters meet the children's centre objectives by providing information on other services such as smoking cessation, breastfeeding support, dads' groups and family planning. There is a comprehensive resource library for the parents to access, including DVDs and books on subjects such as postnatal depression, weaning and bonding, in a range of community languages. Parents can also borrow books to share with babies.

First-hand experience

Cot Gossip incorporates the Essential Care Handover Service, which is facilitated by midwives and offers mothers their final appointment with the midwifery service at the children's centre. The scheme has been christened CHUMS - Community Handover Uniting Mums.

'This means that midwives can see a lot more people in an afternoon, but it also has the benefit of directly introducing new mothers to the services we provide,' explains Ms Casey. 'New mothers are handed so much information that it can be overwhelming. It's much better for them to be able to come in and see what we do. They are introduced to a member of the team and given a programme of events. Many do then come along to Cot Gossip.'

PARENTS' FEEDBACK

'I felt isolated and low before I started attending the group. Now I have made new friends.'

'I always enjoy the topic talks. I learn so much through the group discussions.'

'By using the CHUMS session I was introduced to Riversley Park Children's Centre. I was able to see a session in operation and it meant so much more than having the name of a session on a sheet. I now go every week.'

'It's a great way to receive information on a range of topics relating to the care of babies.'

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