From education to employment

New Infant Mental Health course will plug a vital skills gap and offer new career opportunities

Eunice and Robin

There is growing awareness of the importance of infant mental health and the need to support infants, children and families at an earlier stage to improve the long-term outcomes for all family members. This is opening up new career opportunities for a range of professionals from health, social care and education who work with infants.

Infancy is a critical period in a child’s life, as early experiences can shape connections and relationships into adolescence and beyond.

The latest Government’s early years healthy development review report highlighted the 1,001 critical days through pregnancy to the age of two, which are when the building blocks for lifelong emotional and physical health are laid down.

These early days in an infant’s life are essential for future development but they can also be very stressful for families, especially when they’ve had limited rest and sleep for prolonged or even short periods compounded by stressors such as increases in the cost of living.  

Equally many professionals working with infants and families may not have the skills and training in infant mental health which means they may not understand the challenges parents are facing and are unable to offer the best support.

Research last year from the Parent-Infant Foundation with NHS children and young people’s mental health professionals shows significant gaps in knowledge, experience and confidence across the workforce.  It found that during their pre-qualification training, 26% of respondents had not been trained to work with 0–2-year-olds and 48% had not had experience of working with this age group during their training.

The University of Northampton (UON) is seeking to address the skills and knowledge gap in this area with the launch of a new Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Practice in Infant Mental Health and Wellbeing aimed at just about every practitioner who works with babies, children, young people, and families. It will enable them to draw on the most recent, cutting-edge research to help them understand how best to support families.

The course is aimed at professionals who have an interest in infant mental health and wellbeing including health visitors, social workers, early years professionals, nurses, midwives, and teachers, and is of direct relevance to those employed in family hubs, mother and baby psychiatric units and early help centres.

The bespoke seven month course is endorsed and accredited by the Association for Infant Mental Health (AIMH) and is one of only two courses in the UK on infant mental health. It has been developed by Eunice Lumsden, Professor of Child Advocacy and Head of Childhood Youth and Families at UON who has considerable expertise in working with a broad range of professionals, both nationally and internationally, within education, health, policy and social care and Robin Sturman-Coombs, Senior Lecturer in Social Welfare.

It’s specifically designed to better equip professionals to help them improve outcomes for the infants, children, young people and families they work with. It will enable them to develop expertise and offers opportunities to engage in critical debate, learning and discussions on the contemporary issues relating to the field.

The course covers a breadth of skills, knowledge and experiences, including the structure of an infant’s brain, the impact of adversity on early days, and how harm, abuse and poverty can impact infant mental health. Students will learn how families can help ensure good mental health for babies and infants, and how these relationships intersect across racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexualities and other wide-ranging factors.

Postgraduates will also, if they wish, be able to submit a portfolio of evidence for assessment by AIMH at the end of the course. Successful completion and submission of this portfolio allows them to join the Infant Mental Health Register. The course starts in F 2023 and finishes in September 2023. For more information, click here.

The University of Northampton is part of the Best of Both Worlds recruitment campaign which is shining a light on healthcare careers across the county.

By Eunice Lumsden, Professor of Child Advocacy and Head of Childhood Youth and Families and Robin Sturman-Coombs, Senior Lecturer in Social Welfare at the University of Northampton

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