Health visiting is one of the most misunderstood professions in the UK. My nearest and dearest aren’t even sure what I do. This week, I had to explain my role to a team of GP’s. I thought, ‘How can I expect the families I work with to understand what I do, if my healthcare colleagues don’t even know?’
Let me try and shed some light on who health visitors are and what we do…
Health visitors; our official title “Specialist Community Public Health Nurses”. Health visitors have to be either qualified midwives or nurses, who then undergo a post graduate diploma in public health at either masters or degree level. In total, health visitors have four years of training to become specialist nurses. Our speciality is public health, supporting healthy growth and development of children under 5.
What we do… Our role is to empower and support parents and families who have children under 5 to raise healthy children. This has become increasingly complex and difficult with a number of external factors such as political changes, NHS cutbacks, a retiring workforce and increasing caseloads.
The NHS service offers 6 core visits to all families. At these contacts, health visitors measure growth and development of babies and toddlers by visiting families at home, at child health clinics, in GP surgeries and at children’s centre’s.
After these core contacts, health visitors offer extra assistance and encouragement with queries and challenges around child; feeding, nutrition, sleep, play, speech and language, and guidance and boundaries, either on a one to one basis or in groups.
Health visitors play a key role in assessing and supporting parental needs such as in the difficulty becoming new parents, mental health, domestic abuse and vulnerability. We also have a front-line role in identifying children at risk of harm. We are crucial professionals in identifying abuse such as sexual, physical, emotional and neglect.
I often think to myself “why do health visitors have such an awful reputation?”
I asked my good friend (who has two daughters under 5) how she would describe what a health visitor did? Her honest reply was “health visitors are all theory no action, they don’t do anything”. She, like many others has been let down by health visitors. The daily challenges we face is, not enough contact and time with families, a diminishing work force with an increasing birth rate.
Common feedback is a fear of criticism from health visitors about parenting choices. This is not our role. As a profession, health visitors work to reinforce healthy positive parenting with the evidence-based research. We strive to respect choice and know parents are the experts of their own children. I encourage and empower the families I see with research driven health advice to minimise risk of harm to their children and encourage healthy growth and children who thrive.
I love my job. I am passionate about being a nurse and I feel grateful and privileged to be in a position and a profession that can make a difference to families in seriously stressful times. Up coming blogs will be; understanding the ‘red book’, encouraging development, immunisations, introduction to solids, sleep and positive parenting, if you have any more ideas or would like to hear about something particular please contact on Instagram @thehealthychildco.