Norland College was first approached by the Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba) in 2012 to provide support for a father of newborn triplets whose wife had died following the children’s birth. Norland Agency nannies were quick to offer help and cover the first four weeks of the babies’ return from hospital.
In 2014, the two organisations started working formally together, launching Helping Hands, Supporting Families in Crisis (HHSFC), and have since supported 287 multiple-birth children for 1,968 hours to December 2016.
Research shows that caring for more than one baby brings physical, logistical, mental, emotional and financial challenges that can tip a family into crisis, further compounded by complex causes such as bereavement for a baby or partner or a serious medical condition.
To meet criteria for support from HHSFC, parents must: have sought help from friends, family and external agencies but still need multiple specific support; provide evidence that they are unable to pay for help; and provide written support from a health or social care professional.
Tamba contacts each family to assess needs and eligibility using a ‘Red, Amber, Green’ criteria assessment tool. Green cases are signposted to free remote Tamba resources or introduced to a Children’s Centre, Home-Start or other relevant charity. Amber cases are put on the waiting list (four to eight weeks) for in-home support.
Red cases are prioritised and allocated either short-term intensive in-home support or longer-term in-home support, depending on the complexity of the case. Tamba works with Norland to match each family with either a volunteer support practitioner or one of two Tamba support practitioners (one covers Southern England, the other covers Northern England). The combination of volunteer and paid practitioners (all trained by Norland College and registered with Norland Agency) enables Tamba to provide a timely and reliable service.
The Norland practitioners have supported families facing issues such as bereavement, illness (including terminal conditions), severe postnatal depression, mental health issues, feeding and weaning problems, triplets with additional needs, and quads, as well as sleep and routine issues.
Practitioners find the volunteering experience positive and rewarding and many use their holidays and weekends to help families. One practitioner said, ‘Supporting these families is changing my life, and building my skills and knowledge beyond anything I ever expected. I feel blessed to be in such a privileged position to support these vulnerable families, and help them facilitate their own change. It is exceptionally rewarding.’
One family helped by HHSFC were expecting quads as siblings to their two-year-old daughter with no family close by. Alfie, the oldest quad, was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy, requiring specialist care in a hospital an hour away from home. With the father self-employed and unable to work, plus travel costs, they fell into debt. A Norland-trained volunteer practitioner helped the family to cope. ‘HHSFC has been a lifeline for our family. Without the help of the volunteers we wouldn’t have been able to function properly,’ the parents say.
As the number of multiple births in the UK continues to rise, Tamba and Norland say they hope that recognition for this invaluable work will raise the profile of HHFSC and enable it to continue to support families in need.
‘The real gift was her belief in me, which gave me the strength and courage to get going,' says one parent.
The Co-operative Childcare, Walsall Wood, Warwick
Eureka! Nursery, Halifax
St George’s Community Children’s Project, Tunbridge Wells
Open to early years settings and services that have involved staff, parents and children in projects to support charities or the local/wider community