Academics call for greater support for children born prematurely

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 29 JUNE

Schools and healthcare providers are not doing enough to support the ongoing needs of children who are born prematurely, new research suggests.

The study, carried out by academics at Birmingham City University looked at the experiences of parents of children born before the 37th week of pregnancy, and the level of support they received whilst in hospital, after being discharged, and when their child started nursery and school.

Findings from the study will be presented at an upcoming conference at Birmingham City University which will hear from leading experts in this field, as well as parents of children born preterm.

Parents who took part in the study felt that Health Visitors, and preschool and teaching staff had insufficient knowledge about premature birth and the impact on a child’s development. One parent commented:

“My baby struggled with his development and I was worried. Limited to no support offered. Child development worker was supposed to see us every three months. Due to numbers this was not possible so we have only had one appointment so far. Health visitors were not helpful, they had a lack of knowledge and often upset me by giving me wrong information.”

More than 50,000 babies are born prematurely in England and Wales each year. There are a number of health and educational challenges associated with children who are born preterm, which can include visual and hearing impairments, poor health and growth, behavioural problems, neurological disorders and autism.

Only a small number of parents reported that teachers asked about premature birth on entry to primary school, with the majority of parents informing teachers themselves. However, only a third reported that schools made arrangements to adapt teaching methods to support their child’s needs. One parent commented:

“The total lack of understanding in the local primary school was incredibly traumatic for us as a family and damaged our son’s development even further. Educators must be taught what the impact of prematurity can have.”

Parents also reported of a lack of information provided by healthcare staff in hospital, with over a third of parents stating that they received little or no information about the support available to them following discharge from hospital. Many said that they left hospital with unanswered questions.

Lead researcher, Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Education and Social Work at Birmingham City University, said:

“Fathers have also mentioned stress and anxiety and may need support to talk about their emotions. Children might need additional support from a wide range of professionals. A long-term assessment and monitoring programme for the whole family should be considered.”

Dr Blackburn will present the findings of the study at the ‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Early Care and Education for Children Born Prematurely’ conference, taking place at Birmingham City University next month. The conference aims to raise awareness of the short and long-term consequences of premature birth, and brings together leading experts from across the sector.

Key speakers include; Dr Susan Foster-Cohen, Director of the Champion Centre, New Zealand; Dr Merryl Harvey, Reader in Nursing at Birmingham City University; Professor Barry Carpenter, Honorary Professor at the Universities of Worcester (UK), Limerick (Ireland), Hamburg (Germany), and Flinders, (Australia); Alexandra Connolly, neonatal Speech and Language Therapist with Barts Health in London; Rachel Evans, Senior Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Attendees will also hear from parents of children born prematurely who will share their own personal experiences.

‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Early Care and Education for Children Born Prematurely’, takes place at Birmingham City University’s Curzon Building on Friday 14 July. For further information and to book your place, please visit the booking page.

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