Wednesday 30th September saw the launch of “Strengthening Babies’ Futures”, a pioneering community organising project bringing together parents, community groups, maternity services and academics to improve support for parents in Southwark, in order to reduce health inequalities and give children the best start in life.
“Strengthening Babies’ Futures” is being led by Southwark Citizens, part of the national community organising charity Citizens UK, in collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’, Kings College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts and Kings College London, the four organisations that make up King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre.
The project will establish a community-led social support network, parent-led support groups, and free “Parent University” health courses, in order to tackle social isolation and barriers to accessing health services. Parents will be referred into the project by local community organisations as well as GPs. Midwives and other healthcare professionals from the three NHS organisations will help shape the programme which will engage with four hundred mums and babies over the next two and a half years. Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, will evaluate the impact of this project on the health and development of participating mothers and their babies. These initiatives and their formal evaluation are being funded by Guy’s and St Thomas' Charity.
“Strengthening Babies’ Futures” has been developed in response to a weight of research, notably the Marmot Report to the Government in 2010, which highlights the importance of the early years in shaping a child’s later life-chances. It also builds on the Southwark Citizens “MumSpace” project in Camberwell. This has rapidly grown since its establishment in 2013, to become a thriving group for parents providing mutual support, sign-posting to other services, as well as access to free items such as buggies and toys through its “Baby Bank” partnership with Camberwell Salvation Army.
Matthew Bolton, deputy director of Citizens UK commented: “We are really delighted to have the opportunity to use community organising to build upon the existing strength of the communities in Camberwell and Walworth to ensure that mums and babies get the support they need.”
Folake, a mother of two who lives in Camberwell, commented: “‘I have been coming to MumSpace for nearly a year. When I first started coming I had recently arrived in the UK and I had small baby. I didn’t have many family or friends around in the neighbourhood to help me. But MumSpace has given me a whole set of people around me to support me. I think it is so important that we have a place to express ourselves and learn about childcare and the ways that mums from different culture do things differently. I’m really excited that MumSpace groups are now going to be set up across Southwark, because I know there are lots of mums like me out there who will really benefit.”
Nina Khazaezadeh, a consultant midwife at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, who is helping to oversee the project, commented: "There is a wealth of evidence indicating that the early years, from pre-birth to the age of 5 have significant impact on the health outcomes throughout the life course. “Strengthening Babies’ Futures” represents a shared vision for public sector agencies, people living and working with children, and communities that make up our neighbourhoods, and as such we are delighted to be part of this programme. We strongly believe that this programme will support families to give their babies the best start in life ensuring that parents have a good understanding of early childhood development, based on their needs and in a way that is accessible to them. In addition, it will facilitate parents to build social support and strong networks within their local community, and thus reduce the health inequalities in our local community."
James Murray, Head of Development at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, commented: “As a Charity that supports new ideas to tackle major health and care issues in Lambeth and Southwark, we recognise that helping young children to develop healthily is crucial for themselves and for their parents. Projects like this help parents and carers in disadvantaged areas to support one another, and build stronger links between them and the health system that serves them. With more than 1 in 4 children living in poverty in England, approaches like these may be crucial if the NHS is to cope with the health inequalities that we are seeing in our communities and beyond.”