Each year in England, around 10,000 children are born very preterm (at less than 32 weeks gestation) and a further 60,000 are born moderately preterm (at 32-36 weeks gestation). The number of preterm births has increased in the last two decades, and more preterm children are surviving due to improved neonatal care (National Neonatal Audit Programme, 2015). This raises the question of how well-equipped the childhood and education workforce is to support young children and families.
On Friday 14th July 2017, Birmingham City University hosted the first Interdisciplinary conference on Premature Birth. The event included speakers from education and health, parents and from an international interprofessional early intervention centre. This post is a reflective account of the event.
The first speaker of the day Professor Barry Carpenter discussed prematurity in the context of Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities from an international research project. Barry encouraged delegates to think about the way that children born prematurely learn and to rethink pedagogical approaches for children born prematurely in education, across the lifespan. He discussed the engagement approach adopted by the CLDD project.
Following this Dr. Merryl Harvey discussed findings from a study that explored parents perceptions of having a child born prematurely and stressed the most challenging times for parents were when the baby was being cared for in the NNU and during the first few months after taking the baby home. These challenges were intensified for some parents by having twins or triplets, being first-time parents or experiencing bereavement.
Two parents (Jo Bussey and Kelvin Dawson) talked about their experiences. Parent’s experiences focused on the shock of having a child born prematurely and coping with disability subsequently for one parent.
Rachel Jarmey from BLISS charity outlined the services that they offer to parents in terms of information, support and referral https://www.bliss.org.uk/
Alexendra Connolly and Rachel Evans (speech and language therapists) discussed the need for sensitive, child-led feeding to avoid children becoming stressed or anxious about feeding / food choices.
Dr Susan Foster-Cohen discussed the long term effects of premature birth on children and families as well as the Champion Centre assessment and monitoring programme for children born prematurely in New Zealand. Following this Dr. Carolyn Blackburn discussed the implications of premature birth for early years practice from her study with parents in England, who described their experiences as ‘a different kind of normal’ highlighting the need to normalise premature birth.
There were also poster presentations from PhD students at BCU on parenting multiples and Kangaroo care.
On reflection it appears that children born prematurely need ongoing assessment and monitoring to ensure that any problems with development are identified early but also to reassure parents. Not all children born prematurely will have difficulties with development but where they do, they may not be evident until they start school. Parents might need counselling and support for psychological trauma. The parent-child relationship and parent-parent relationship might need extra support. Children might need extra support settling into new settings and for transitions.
Slides from the event can be found here http://www.bcu.ac.uk/research/stories/born-early and there is also a Nursery World Article that might be interesting http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/nursery-world/news/1161600/parents-experience-lack-of-support-for-premature-children
Delegates have described the event as “the highlight of our training year” and particularly liked the interdisciplinary focus of the event:
“It was so useful to have a multidisciplinary day, including parents, health and education, so that we can all work together consistently around the child and family. It gave us the opportunity also to network during breaks and talk to people from other disciplines who we would not usually encounter.”
Please contact Carolyn on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any queries or would like training to support children born prematurely.