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The First Touch Program: Using infant massage to support family relationships and brain development

By 02/02/2017Blog, Member News

By: Karen Craggs and Liz Hillyer, Junction Australia

Junction Australia is a community organisation working across all of South Australia, providing counselling, community support and housing services to families, children and young people. Our Point of Engagement program  is an early intervention home visiting service where we undertake intensive intervention with parents, or pregnant women, who are involved in drug or alcohol misuse, and their vulnerable new-born babies and children.

Our home visiting service offers families the First Touch Infant Massage program. We are supported by Baby In Mind – an organisation offering accredited training in this infant mental health promotion program to professionals, as well as community members. This infant massage program supports parents to experience the benefits and joys that come from using healthy touch, infant massage and other forms of interaction to communicate with their baby.

Social and emotional development throughout life is based in these high quality interactions and the First Touch Program is an affordable, effective, cue-based program we use to support these early interactions in the families we support.

The cue-based First Touch Program is well-supported in research, and has improved and supported parents and babies using our service in the following ways:

~ Improves parent-infant interactions related to healthy attachment development;

~ Supports parents to develop confidence in interacting with their baby

~ Can help some parents feel more competent in their own abilities to settle, soothe and regulate their baby

~ Relaxes both parents and their baby, and can reduce stress hormone levels

~ Assists with providing relief from some digestive symptoms  such as ‘colic’, wind and constipation

~ May reduce the impact of postnatal depression on some infants in some circumstances, and help to reduce/ protect against the long-term consequences

~ Gives parents skills and confidence in regulating the baby’s state or neurological arousal and stress behaviours – this is an essential condition needed for the brain to establish neural pathways involved in mental health, emotional regulation, cognitive function and social skills

Junction Australia’s Point of Engagement program continues to undertake intensive intervention with parents, or pregnant women, who are involved in drug or alcohol misuse, and their vulnerable new-born babies and children. Using the First Touch Program has been one of the most effective ways we have found to connect parents with their newborns. This program supports quality interaction and aims to reduce the long term effects of maternal stress on children within highly complex multi problem families. Using a relationship based approach it facilitates parents’ capacity to sensitively communicate with their babies, and respond to their needs through massage, respectful touch and responsive interactions.

This article is written by Karen Craggs and Liz Hillyer (Junction Australia), and was originally presented as a poster presentation at the Child Aware Conference (Families Australia, supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services) 2016. It has been re-published here with permission.  To find out more about the work Junction Australia is doing with vulnerable babies and their parents please contact: Liz Hillyer -Portfolio Manager for Community Support & Connection, junctionaustralia.org.au

Baby in Mind is a national, ACNC-registered charity working to support and promote early mental health development.  They provide nationally accredited training – in partnership with the Australian Institute of Social Relations – to qualify professionals and community members to teach the First Touch Program to families. To find out more about training to deliver the First Touch Program, contact babyinmind.org.au

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