30th March 2020
LEADING North East neonatal charity, Leo’s, launches brand-new service to help children who started life on a neonatal unit.
Future Steps Occupational Therapy, based in Thornaby, has a highly experienced team, educated specifically to help children and adults with additional needs.
Over the past year, Kathryn Carruthers, Leo’s trustee and Allied Health Professional Lead, has been working closely with Future Steps Managing Director, Julie Davis and her team to create a bespoke programme which would see children who have spent time on a neonatal unit, supported with targeted occupational therapy.
The team’s centre is currently closed in line with government guidance, and with the help of the Leo’s team, they have brought their service into the virtual world.
With many neonatal families in isolation, the teams felt it was crucial to pull forward their launch and support the development of neonatal graduates now.
The Leo’s & Future Steps Neonatal OT service will combine targeted programmes for up to 13 children, parent education sessions, access to the therapists through the Leo’s Cub Club, and activity videos to support the wider Leo’s community.
Kat Carruthers, Leo’s trustee, allied health professional lead, and neonatal care researcher at The University of Teesside, said: “When families come into the community after a neonatal stay, their world has been turned upside down. Often when parents finally come home the reality of what they have experienced can hit them.
“The occupational therapy programme can help parents to connect and bond with their baby when they are discharged home. It aims to help them to look at the strengths their baby has, help them to understand what their baby is telling them and teach vital strategies to work towards overcoming any challenges their child may be facing.
“The therapy groups and individual sessions encourage putting the building blocks of physical, social and emotional development in place for both baby and their family to start their home life together.
“Some children also face additional challenges as they grow and especially when they reach school age. They may struggle to concentrate in class, sit still, complete work and navigate this new environment. The parent educational teaching sessions as part of the programme will help parents to support their child to face these new demands and develop independence.”
The service, which has already identified more than 10 families to take part in the pilot work, begins in April, and will also now be able to open up its online parent training to 200 families.
Julie Davis, Managing Director at Future Steps, told us: “Future Steps are honoured to be working in partnership with Leo’s, providing at this time, online training and interactive sessions to support families during these difficult weeks ahead.
“We aim to focus on supporting children and families in the crucial stages of development, ensuring their sensory-motor foundation skills are in place for them to meet their developmental milestones. To be able to play, socially engage and learn, children, require the development of many sensory systems such as, tactile, balance, proprioception, which support their fine and gross motor skills, and perception. These are important skills required for nursery and school.
“To colour or write, children need awareness, for example, their left and right, in-hand manipulation skills, posture, perception, and spatial awareness. When these skills are acquired easily then children are motivated to engage, however, for many children this one skill can change their whole perception of school and their feelings of success. We aim to ensure children never feel they can’t achieve by providing early intervention, which is vital to assist the child to become engaged in their world.
“The service will educate parents, provide therapeutic session, and be there to answer any questions that cause parents concern about their child’s development.”
Kat Carruthers added: “I am thrilled at the programme we have created for families in partnership with Future Steps Occupational Therapy Service. As you can imagine, this is not how we envisaged our first allied pilot project to be launched.
“Being able to continue to support our families in the current climate is vital to Leo’s and is the foundation of our ethos to support neonatal families through adversity. I am confident that our new online occupational therapy programme will provide relief, positivity and much needed support to families in their homes during this challenging time until we can meet face-to-face again.
“I hope this is the first of many collaborations and look forward to working with other allied health professionals such as speech and language therapists, dieticians and physiotherapists in the near future.”