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Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Blog - Inspiring Scotland

Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Blog

Why Third Sector Support for Infant Mental Health Matters

Supporting the wellbeing of parents and babies during pregnancy and the first years of a baby’s life is one of the most important investments we can make as a society. It’s never too late, but there’s plenty of evidence that early intervention is one of the best and most cost-effective ways of improving outcomes for children.

We know that the foundations for social, emotional, and cognitive development are hugely influenced by our earliest experiences and how we’re cared for. Responsive and attuned caregiving shapes a baby’s brain architecture and helps develop the emotional and social foundations for healthy development.

Early support for vulnerable families that enhances parents’ wellbeing and supports the parent-infant relationship is crucial.

The Scottish Government is committed to implementing and funding a Scotland-wide model of infant mental health provision. The third sector is a key part of the holistic relationship-focussed support that families should be able to access.

Dr Anne McFadyen chairs the Scottish Government’s Infant Mental Health Implementation and Advisory Group, and explains: “The aim is to develop services from conception to three years of age which address the needs of vulnerable families whose parents may not have access to formal mental health services. Many are supported by third sector organisations, but some have no supports at all. In each area we want to see joined up systems which include statutory and third sector services”.

One of the many third sector organisations supporting parents and infants is Stepping Stones North Edinburgh. Part-funded by the Scottish Government’s Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Fund, their “Bump Start” programme provides individualised and flexible emotional and practical support to pregnant women and their families, from conception through to the early postnatal months.

Many of the parents they support have faced significant adversity in their lives. Staff work closely with midwives and health visitors to provide early support that enhances the wellbeing of parents and helps them to establish loving and responsive relationships with their new babies.

The staff at Stepping Stones are highly skilled and continually update their training, including the suite of Infant Mental Health training offered by NES (NHS Education Scotland).

Chief Executive, Morag Wilson, explains: “Our workers have completed many of the NES (NHS Education Scotland) Infant Mental health recommended training courses such as Peep, Mellow Parenting and the NES online modules. We have also trained as a full organisation in the Solihull approach, and staff have undertaken the Brazelton Newborn Behavioural Observations training, helping them support parents to further understand and respond appropriately to their newborn babies’ cues”.

The NES training offering is open to all staff in the early years workforce, based on skills levels set out in the Perinatal mental health curricular framework, and is available online.

The Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Fund also supports delivery of short courses for third sector staff that develop infant observation skills and encourage a focus on the baby and their communications. Delivered by Human Development Scotland, these courses are specifically designed to be accessible to staff who may not have professional or tertiary academic qualifications.

Dr McFadyen explains: “We know that many people don’t think of infants as having the capacity to communicate, or even their own personalities. This course puts babies at its heart and helps participants to appreciate just how ready babies are to engage with the world”.

Organisations in Scotland interested in applying for a place on the HDS Infant Observation course can register interest with

Organisations and community groups in Scotland that support the mental health of parents, carers and infants from pregnancy up to a child’s third birthday can apply to the PIMH Small Grants Fund, open for applications until 9th July.

Inspiring Scotland maintains a Directory of PIMH Services delivered by third sector organisations across Scotland.