Tweddle Child and Family Health Service

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Most people think that playing with a baby or toddler is something that comes naturally, but for many parents, it doesn’t.  Many lack any experience and have no role models on which to base their own parenting.

Tweddle Child and Family Health Service is a state-wide 98 year old Public Hospital and Early Parenting organisation based in Footscray. Every week they provide over 70 intake telephone assessments for mums and dads struggling with the pressures of parenting their baby or toddler.

Programs include a 5-day residential parenting program and a ten-day parenting assessment and skills development program for child protection families. Through admission, 32 different risk factors are assessed, including depression, anxiety and family violence, each posing a cumulative risk to the parent/infant attachment relationship.

Tweddle turned to the Collier Charitable Fund seeking to fund a new play therapy program. Through admission Tweddle identified that many parents were struggling with trauma and this was effecting their ability to enjoy their baby, and subsequently causing distress and disruption in the parent/child relationship.

With help from the Collier Charitable Fund, Tweddle introduced the evidence based program ‘Learning To Play’. The play therapist, an experienced RN, RM, and M&CHN, PlaySteps Facilitator and NCAST Assessor worked at Tweddle every Wednesday. She provided one on one sessions, group sessions and secondary consults for residential babies, toddlers, parents and staff. She also provided two staff training sessions in therapeutic play.

Through play, babies and toddlers learn that the world can be safe and predictable. Play therapy effects are found to be greatest when there is parent involvement where children have the opportunity to 'play out' feelings and problems.

When families experiencing adversity begin to play together, perceptions of each other are changed, communication is accomplished in less direct ways, and individuals experience a decrease in resistance. Through laughter and play, endorphins are released and feelings of wellbeing emerge.

The Learning To Play Facilitator had a profound impact on the way vulnerable parents saw and responded to their children. She role modelled important interactions, explained what children might be experiencing, provided gentle alternatives to parenting responses, advised staff on observational tools and encouraged groups to bond through shared activities, encouraging peer support.

In the Parenting Assessment & Skills Development Program (PASDS) for child protection families, the one on one play sessions were particularly therapeutic. They enabled the parents to experience a play interaction and an opportunity to learn about their child, something many of these parents have never experienced. They were able to have this destigmatising session in their own rooms, in a relaxed private and playful atmosphere and the opportunity to take photos and videos home with them.

35 staff attended insightful training sessions with the facilitator to explain the theory behind play therapy and play steps, upon which the facilitators training is based.

Program evaluation showed that parents had a better understanding of their child's behaviour, development and cues, and developed different ways to respond.  Childhood experiences have a tremendous impact on lifelong health and opportunity and are an important public health issue. With thanks to the Collier Charitable Fund, Tweddle is establishing a special interest group with a focus on child play and parent responsiveness in order to embed what we have learnt and develop care plans that include play to improve parent child interactions and attachment.

One mum said

“Liz was amazing and I couldn't speak more highly of her. I found Tweddle staff were amazing mentors, coaches and friends. I watched a staff member play and sing to a toddler and it was the most lovely thing I witnessed at Tweddle.This staff member inspired me as a mum. I think she is one in a million. I loved seeing how beautiful staff were towards babies at Tweddle.”