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Encouraging infant-nurturing skills with at ‘risk boys’

Encouraging infant-nurturing skills with at ‘risk boys’ could reduce family violence

Public Health Association media release, 4 October 2017

Working with at risk boys to empower them with infant-nurturing skills may help them become better parents and reduce family violence, The Public Health Association Conference in Christchurch heard today.

Ms Judy Barnett, Rural and Communities, Waikato District Health Board, said that in her work as a public health nurse she become very aware of the number of babies and infants who had suffered life threatening injuries, frequently from a male member of the household – often not the father of the child.

“It made me wonder how big the gaps are in our community's knowledge around infant care,” Ms Barnett said.

“Possibly, the reason for this is because the men could not recall a sense of nurturing from their own childhoods.”

Ms Barnett said that, as a public health nurse she had been regularly visiting an alternative school for at risk boys who had issues around behaviour and home life and were often under state care.

With the support of the school principal Ms Barnett designed a one-term programme around the basic care of a baby and worked with the boys to help them understand the specific needs of a young child.

“The hope was that some of this would stay in their memory into adulthood and even parenthood.”

The first lesson was simply around how to hold a baby and engage with it in a nurturing way. She used a life-sized baby doll to show the boys how to do this and about how a baby responds to tone of voice. She says the boys responded very well.

“The boys loved this exercise and quickly took to holding and chatting to it gently. I was surprised by their lack of embarrassment and willingness to take on a caring role.”

Other lessons covered ideas such as the reasons why a baby might be crying, how to change a soiled nappy, how to prepare a bottle, and learning to bath a baby safely, making it a happy experience.

“These appear normal, basic things in caring for babies. But that’s only if we've had the opportunity to be part of a learning relationship. That was not the case for many of these boys,” Ms Barnett said.

“We evaluated as we went along to see how much the boys were retaining and were pleasantly surprised by their retention of the concepts. But the most heartening part of this experience was seeing the boys identifying with and taking pride in knowledge around nurturing.”

In acknowledgement of their involvement, each of the boys was given a certificate of participation.

The programme started as a five-week pilot, but Ms Barnett said it was extended for a further two terms.

“It was clear that when given the opportunity, the boys were keen to put their best foot forward,” Ms Barnett said.

“What we proved was that within a small group discussion-based learning environment, the knowledge was accessible to the boys and that they did take it on board.”

ends

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