CPNP Successes: A Postnatal Program in Victoria
We spoke with Diana Bosworth, M.A., Family Services Coordinator at Esquimalt Neighbourhood House in Victoria. They have been funded to do a postnatal CPNP program since the mid-nineties, starting on one site and, over time, expanded to two sites.
Most participants start attending about 6 weeks post-partum and attend the 2-hr group weekly. The primary goal is to deliver consistent messaging on the key public health messages such as wellness, infant care, and parent self-care. The program brings in a regular cycle of key partners to do presentations, including the public health nurse, car seat fitting specialist, dental hygienist, librarian, etc. Learning skills, such as taking care of baby’s mouth from a dental hygienist, gives parents information to feel confident in their parenting. One participant comments, “Since coming to this group I’m breastfeeding this second baby longer because of the support I get here at group”.
One of the great strengths of the program is its ability to dovetail with the pre-natal programs onsite and in the community to provide a continuum. Their program participants include all the new parents that come out of the intensive prenatal programs, including a significant number of parents who have grown up with family conflict, trauma, and violence (approx. 40%). Parents entering the program often lack confidence in their parenting skills, as they have not experienced good parenting in their own upbringing. The program offers reinforcement and support in learning parenting skills, and families stay with program until the new baby is 12 months old. In order to reinforce learning, topics are often re-presented several times during the 12-month participation in the program, so that parents can hear the same messages at different stages in their child’s development (e.g. 3 months, 6 months, 9 months), fine-tuned to the new stage of development that the infant has entered. Participants are involved in planning the presentations and staff prepare the presenters ahead of time for the composition of the particular group for whom they will be doing the presentation (e.g. learning style, age of babies, type of questions likely to be brought forward).
There is a wide age-range of parents in the program, from 15 to late 20s. Amongst the older parents, there are a high number who have had a child removed from their care earlier in life, who are not first time parents, but who have done a lot of work and are determined to succeed in parenting with this child. One of the sites has a lot of Mandarin-speaking new immigrants learning to parent in a Canadian context. While the Westshore area has a somewhat larger stock of available housing, at both sites housing challenges are significant for many participants. It is frequent for new parents to have to move several times in the first year of their child’s life. The program provides continuity and predictability, as housing situations change. Victoria is a tough housing market, with a dwindling supply of affordable rental housing, particularly in the last year. Housing needs with a child differ from those of a single adult, which often triggers a move.
The program provides participants with resources to reduce barriers, such as bus tickets, fresh produce, baby books, kids’ Vitamin D, grocery cards for regular participants, and Farmers Market donations.
The program uses hands-on activities to facilitate the learning such as crock-pot cooking and games, accommodating different learning styles and utilizing engagement that is meaningful for participants. They also offer the Mother Goose program, which is unfamiliar to many new parents, who did not experience songs and rhymes in their own childhood. Mother Goose is a big hit; both parents and babies love it. One mum says, “Since coming to the group I have interacted more with my little one such as I sing more and I read him a book every night now.”
The program also offers lots of good information about community resources, such as low-cost food and clothing sources.
Participants are often unsure and confused about how to navigate all the ways to access the wide variety of parenting information available through multiple avenues. The consistency of the public health messages, delivered through a range of sources, builds a baseline of knowledge and helps parents develop confidence. The learning they receive in the program answers questions and increases their understanding of why these are key messages and important knowledge.
Community tours to library and community centre help to familiarize participants with opportunities for parents and children in the community. These group outings help the families become aware of and connected with community resources. When parents can recognize familiar locations and faces and know some names, it improves access and removes barriers.
The CPNP program has partnerships with Esquimalt and Westshore Parks and Recreation, who facilitate subsidized passes for participants. The CPNP program gives out a lot of free passes to local facilities to participants in the program. Using community resources such as the pool, the treadmill, and child-minding services at the recreation centre is helpful to parents for managing their self care, as well as being a way of developing a wider network of relationships.
The program also encourages connection to a parenting community, mum-to-mum, encouraging parents to create informal personal networks outside of group time to meet in the community, pick up books from library and have coffee together.
Social skills and confidence grow as participants develop new relationships with other parents within the program and test out community resources as a group. This helps in countering social anxiety, especially for those who have difficulty with trust issues. As participants find they can cope and connect in the wider community, they are pleased to find themselves getting out of the house, not feeling so alone, and making connections in the community. A parent in the program comments, “When I am in distress I now have a handful of friends who understand and offer help; I also know where to look for help and am way more aware of available resources.”
There is a natural transition to the onsite CAPC program at the 12-month point. Staff members of the parenting programs work collaboratively to provide continuity of support and relationship. Staff members from the CAPC program visit the CPNP program to familiarize participants with their program and to personally invite participants to join their group when their child reaches its first birthday. Participants are able to ask lots of questions about the next program so they know what to expect. Staff members from the CPNP program often visit other programs to do presentations and re-connect with parents they have come to know.
The other continuity provided by the agency is family development work in family services. Staff members in the CPNP program are able to identify needs and provide referrals onsite. Postpartum is a vulnerable time emotionally for many parents. Families who are struggling or who have a higher need can access one-to-one support and counseling services. Individualized mental health support is also available. It builds familiarity and trust for families to be able to access multiple services at the same site with a comprehensive range of services.
A final comment comes from a participant in the program: “The group gets me out of the house to be more social; I am more confident in my breastfeeding, and I am using songs more frequently- love to see my baby play with other babies. I am also participating in other activities with other Moms which is new to me.”