19th July 2020
LEO’S, the charity which supports the wellbeing of neonatal families in the North East has been awarded a substantial amount of funding to provide new care to families of sick and premature babies.
The service, which includes £30,000 from The National Lottery is a six month initial project to respond to the emerging mental health and wellbeing needs of families who have had a sick or premature baby during the pandemic lockdown, or have been shielding a clinically vulnerable child after discharge from neonatal care.
This is the first COVID-19 response of its kind in the UK for neonatal families.
The service, which has also had funding provided from Comic Relief, Tees Valley Community Foundation and Durham Community Foundation has been tailored specifically to the needs of this group of at-risk families.
Provisions including EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) to treat PTSD and severe anxiety, specialised occupational therapy to support child development, child counselling for siblings or older neonatal children impacted by shielding, additional trauma counselling and nurture and attunement sessions, are the types of services available to neonatal families.
This will be added on to other dedicated provision including peer support, sign language, baby massage and neonatal specific yoga for babies and toddlers.
This group are already at increased risk of ill mental health after spending time on a neonatal unit. Last year a Leo’s survey revealed that 79% of parents said their mental health had been affected by their stay. Families can face isolation as they return home, often with a baby with additional or complex needs, with some parents needing to give up work to become full time carers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on these families”, said Mandy Marsden, Leo’s trustee and parent to twins born at 23 weeks. “Those with babies in hospital have seen the normal 24/7 visiting hours cut to 2 hours per day for one parent only- the lasting effect of that separation may well be wide ranging and severe.”
However, it’s not just new babies who have been affected-many parents of older children who were born sick or early have found themselves suddenly having to shield in their homes for weeks on end, losing all their support systems at once.
Lottie King, Founder of Leo’s, explained that this has increased the demand for wellbeing support: “We are so grateful for the funding to support neonatal families in this time of crisis. Leo’s has continued to care for families who have been shielding with a clinically high-risk baby or child who has been in neonatal care, and those currently in neonatal care, throughout the pandemic.
“During this time, we have been inundated with parents and children who have needed various types of interventions and we are seeing more severe mental health issues than we would normally expect. We are committed to supporting this cohort of families and ensuring their wellbeing is at the heart of what we offer.”
The Kenchington Family said of the support they’ve already received: “When other organisations have had to reduce services over lockdown, we actively felt Leo’s reaching out. Individual counselling sessions have continued over the phone and there have been opportunities to get involved in group therapy over Zoom.
“Leo’s have organised occupational therapy sessions and first aid sessions over Zoom too which have been really high quality. The team have been so approachable and willing to help wherever they can- even if it is just listening to our frustrations or worries. Nothing is ever too much trouble.
“We have received little care packages from them which are always so useful and well thought out. Our daughter has particularly struggled with lockdown and anxiety about coronavirus. After seeing her brother being so unwell in NICU she has been scared of him catching COVID19. Again, Leo’s have continued to offer support to her and care for the wider family. Leo’s has been an absolute lifeline over lockdown, and we are very grateful to have them in our lives.”
The project was designed in direct response to the needs of the families Leo’s supports.
Lottie continues: “As we speak to families both in the neonatal units and in the community on a weekly basis, we were able to elicit their concerns. We were then able to pull together a clear pathway of care based on their identified needs. With many of our own team shielding clinically extremely vulnerable children, we were also able to draw on first-hand experience of the impact not only to the children themselves, but the siblings and parents / carers also.”
The aim of the new service is to reduce the potential of adverse consequences resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and associated shielding measures and visiting restrictions, which may impact on the mental health of the family, parent-infant relationships and the physical and psycho-social development of the infant.
Families, health care professionals, and professionals who support families in this area, such as Portage or Early Help will be able to refer into the service from Monday July 20th via the Leo’s website.
Leo’s currently cares for families on the neonatal units in The James Cook University Hospital, Darlington Memorial Hospital, Sunderland Royal Hospital and The University Hospital of North Durham, as well as families in the community after discharge from hospital.
The team offers services such as peer support, counselling, vCreate, a secure video, picture messaging service which allows neonatal teams to send updates to parents when they’re at home, heartbeat bears, wellbeing boxes, and online community group support.