‘These places are like a godsend’: a qualitative analysis of parents' experiences of health visiting outside the home and of children's centres services

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Abstract

Background

In 2011–2012, we carried out a programme of research to inform the Department of Health's strategy for strengthening health visiting services in England. Our research included a study of parents' views of their experiences with health visiting services in two geographical areas in England. Here, we draw upon data from this work to illustrate valuable aspects of family support outside the home reported in parents' accounts of their experiences of health visiting. We also explore the usefulness of relational autonomy as a theoretical lens for understanding the mechanisms through which this support operates.

Design

We draw upon data from semi-structured interviews with 44 parents across two ‘Early Implementer Sites’ of the ‘new service vision’ in England. Our thematic analysis of the data was informed by grounded theory principles.

Findings and discussion

Parents valued being able to attend child health clinics and group activities outside the home; this helped them to avoid social isolation and to identify, choose and use the forms of advice and support that best suited them. We suggest that health visiting outside the home and children's centres services may also foster parental autonomy, especially when this is understood in relational terms.

Conclusions

Health visiting outside the home and children's centres services are an important complement to health visiting in the home; both dimensions of family support should be available in the community. Relational readings of autonomy can help illuminate the ways in which these services can foster (or undermine) parents' autonomy.

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