I recently attended a conference run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), and hosted by Parents 1st, an organisation promoting strong parent-to-parent community networks. The conference really hit home about the unique value volunteers can have in supporting pregnant women and new parents.

The conference, The Power of Volunteering during Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, highlighted how the transition through pregnancy, birth and early parenting provides a window of opportunity when new parents are particularly open to change. We know that the emotional wellbeing of mothers has an extremely strong influence on the resilience of children growing up. Effective volunteer programmes, embedded into the local system, that assist parents at this key stage of a child’s development can make a unique and invaluable contribution in preventing an escalation of problems as children grow.

Whilst there is understandably so much focus on mums, it is also important to consider dads. Kathy Jones from the Fatherhood Institute highlighted the often neglected role of fathers in much of the discussion about a child’s wellbeing. Kathy emphasised the need for services and ways of working to reflect the changes in family structure and parenting responsibilities over the past couple of decades: We know that many fathers are actively involved in their children’s lives and there is clear evidence that this can be key for example in determining whether a child ends up in employment or in prison when they are older. With the statistic that Kathy quoted of 1 in 3 parents not being together by a child’s second birthday, it seems essential that we all include fathers wherever possible, whether we are volunteers or professionals.

A key issue that emerged in one of the workshops I attended is the idea of providing activities to parents as a ‘cover’ for them to engage with other types of support. This can be particularly effective for parents and parents-to-be who might otherwise be reluctant to ask for or use help (and is true in all aspects of life – it’s why supermarkets offer those tempting free samples to entice you to try a new product!). Our Parent and Community groups have already come up with some great ideas to help engage parents in this way, such as a Baby Exercise Class for parents whose young children can also attend; or a Farm Visit for families with young children or babies. These ideas are being looked at in the Ward Forums with the potential for a number of them to be put into action though our Engagement Fund. So we’re already on the way with developing this approach in building engagement with parents and families.

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