Looking after the youngest people’s mental health

Date 10 October 2022

Today (10 October 2022) is World Mental Health Day and we turn the spotlight on Senior Lecturer in Social Welfare Robin Sturman-Coombs. Here, he talks about this and why the University of Northampton (UON) developed a specific course – the Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Practice in Infant Mental Health and Wellbeing – to address a need in this area.

Robin Sturman-Coombs, Senior Lecturer in Social Welfare

A Social Worker by profession, Robin ‘switched’ his career path by focusing on the importance of good mental health for babies and infants.

I’m a graduate of UON, completing my undergraduate degree here in Social Work 2011. Like many, I then went and worked in the statutory side of the profession for a few years, before being fortunate enough to come back here and work with the academic Social Work Team.

I’ve been fascinated for some years now about the importance of attachment and love between parents and children, following my MSc in Attachment Studies.

Since then, it’s been the golden thread that’s run through my academic time at the University. To have the opportunity to bring this into teaching at UON, to use the most up-to-date research findings to ‘pass on’ this knowledge and skillsets is something I am committed to doing.

Why is infant mental health important?

The very early days of all our lives – the first 1,001 – are crucial to our future development but can also be very stressful for families.

It’s important to talk about because the health and wellbeing of parents have a direct correlation with their infants’. Society can often neglect this. Parents and carers who are in a ‘good place’ can draw on support networks and systems they are aware of, so are more likely to raise children who are resilient and can cope with adversity, not just during their early years, but for the rest of their later lives.

This can be tricky for parents, especially when they’ve had limited rest and sleep for prolonged or even short periods.

What professionals need to think more about infant mental health?

In short, just about every practitioner who works with babies, children, young people, and families! There is an onus on them to draw on the most recent, cutting-edge research to help them understand how best to support families.

Clearly, it’s vitally important professionals of whatever background bring this to bear when working with families, whether they are social workers, early years professionals, nurses, midwives, or teachers. And this need is irrelevant to someone’s background, whether they have an existing academic profile or not.

The Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Practice in Infant Mental Health and Wellbeing is for a wide range of professionals who are working with babies and young children and who have an interest in their mental health, and it cuts across many professional areas.

What sort of skills and knowledge will professionals get from UON’s new course?

It covers a breadth of skills, knowledge and experiences. We’ll delve into the structure of an infant’s brain, the impact of adversity on early days, and how harm, abuse and poverty can impact infant mental health. Our students will get opportunity to explore, talk about and critically analyse this and understand how families help ensure good mental health for babies and infants, and how these relationships intersect across racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexualities and other wide-ranging factors.

The course will be attractive to lots of people who have been in practice for a long time and do an excellent job, but there will be others who might have been out of traditional education – whether at university level of note – but this is no barrier.

Our students will finish the course – which lasts 7 months – with an impressive ‘toolkit’ to take into the world to the families they will help, a course which is endorsed and Accredited by AIMH (Association for Infant Mental Health Practitioners).

The PG Certificate in Infant Mental Health and Wellbeing’s first intake of students is set for January 2023, with places still available; to find out more, you can email Rob for a chat.

Robin Sturman-Coombs, Senior Lecturer in Social Welfare
Robin Sturman-Coombs, Senior Lecturer in Social Welfare

Robin Sturman-Coombs is a Senior Lecturer in Social Welfare.