Evaluation of Health Visitors' assessment of mother-child interactions

Dr Jane Appleton and Professor Margaret Harris (in collaboration with John Oates from the Open University) carried out a study to find out how health visitors assess the quality of mother-infant interactions, funded by a grant from the Burdett Trust for Nursing.

Health visitors are on the front line for identifying possible problems in mother-infant relationships so it is important that their evaluations are as accurate as possible. Mothers and babies were invited to the BabyLab where their interactions were observed and video-recorded. Health visitors were then invited to rate the quality of the interactions and their ratings were compared with objective ratings made by the researchers using a standardised scoring system.

The main finding was that health visitors showed considerable variation in their assessments: health visitors who focused mainly on the mother's behaviour produced less accurate assessments than those who took into account the behaviour of both the mother and her baby.

The findings of this project (Appleton, Harris, Oates and Kelly, 2013) led directly to the development of teaching materials to support trainee health visitors and experienced professionals in the development of their observational skills. The 'Think Baby' project was successfully piloted at Oxford Brookes and two other universities and is now being rolled out across all Health Visitor training programmes in the London area, with the support of Health Education London (NCEL).

The development of the training materials was supported by a grant from the Higher Education Academy to Dr Jane Appleton.