Conference special 2021: health and wellbeing for all ages

22 July 2021

A round-up of the inaugural one-day Unite-CPHVA virtual conference 2021 – from sustaining your own workplace resilience to the impact of lockdown on babies, expert speakers explored the issues for CPs through the lens of Covid and beyond.


Janet Taylor, chair of the CPHVA Executive, welcomed both speakers and delegates, setting the scene with a few words about challenges of the past 18 months, adding: ‘Personally, on behalf of Unite-CPHVA, I would like to thank you all. Throughout this journey we have learned a lot, and had many challenges, but you have maintained services and continued to visit, regardless of circumstances.’

She also welcomed special guest speaker Charlotte McArdle, chief nursing officer for Northern Ireland, who spoke to delegates ahead of the start of the conference, praising their work during the pandemic, including their ‘leadership ability’, ‘extreme dedication’ and contribution to the vaccination programme.

Charlotte stressed how important it is ‘to say it’s okay to say you’re not okay’, and spoke of the need to rebuild with optimism and the role of nurses and midwives as ‘holders of hope and champions of change’

Really fascinating talk from @MarkWilliamsFMH on paternal MH. As a male entering health visiting it’s a topic that really resonates with me #CPHVAWellbeing21

Paul Wright @lefty22_

Mental health and resilience

Tips and ideas to support resilience, especially when working remotely, peppered chartered psychologist Dr Derek Mowbray’s presentation as he led delegates through aspects of mental health and wellbeing at work.

He began by setting out the four pillars of resilience: self-esteem, self-efficacy, motivation and mental control.

He spoke about ‘resilience as a choice’, urging people to give time to list out what ‘makes you feel great about yourself’, and ‘what things entice you out of your normal comfort zone’.

Other tips included dividing the remote working day into bite-sized activities, taking time to both plan and review, anticipating adversity, expressing gratitude and assessing your own wellbeing.

He urged the conference attendees to ‘tell yourself how fantastic you are in the mirror’ first thing in the morning, and reflected on the importance of social time with colleagues and the need for work to be fun and rewarding.

He also advocated for ‘more leadership, less management’, a shift that includes giving control, instead of taking it, and nurturing and prioritising the team.

‘An experience that will haunt me forever’ CREDIT_Unite-CPHVA

That’s how Sam Williams, health visitor with the Flying Start service in one of the most deprived areas of South Wales, described the experience of her redeployment to an intensive therapy unit (ITU) for eight weeks at the epicentre of the first wave of the pandemic. But her time at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board was also a time of learning.

She said: ‘I don’t think anything prepares you for seeing death every shift, caring for patients in full PPE, communicating with families over the phone, while relearning critical care nursing skills and worrying about infecting my family.’

There were positives too, including reigniting her passion for health visiting, being inspired to complete her master’s, and sharing her expertise with her team around PPE.

She describes a ‘mixed bag of emotions’, including guilt at leaving families in ITU and at leaving her own team. She also felt unable to share what she’d experienced because she didn’t want to frighten colleagues and was still processing it herself.

On her return to health visiting and home visits, she said it became obvious that telephone and virtual consultations had not captured the true picture of families’ vulnerabilities, especially for those where no previous triggers or risks had been identified.

She also found families ‘really grateful’ for the return of home visiting, which made them realise ‘they weren’t on their own’, and an influx of families asking for support.

Sam spoke too about the continued effects of the pandemic on public health, which she called the ‘overlooked frontline’.

The pandemic had shown how ‘unique and important’ the role of the health visitor is.

How are you, dad?

Paternal mental health campaigner Mark Williams spoke about the importance of including fathers in the conversations around perinatal mental health, sharing his own struggles with mental health after the birth of his son.

He began by describing his first panic attack in hospital when he was told his wife needed an emergency C-section: ‘Thinking that my wife and baby were going to die in front of me, for me personally, was absolutely horrendous.’

Mark describes how his personality ‘totally changed’ after the traumatic birth of his son, but with his wife suffering with postnatal depression he ‘couldn’t tell anyone’ what he was feeling. Years later, Mark realised he’d never been able to talk about that experience, and he began a support group for ‘fathers reaching out to support other fathers’:

From sleep deprivation to post-traumatic stress disorder, to feelings of guilt and inadequacy and worries about bonding, fathers have many of the same issues as mothers in the postnatal period, explained Mark.

He said one in 10 dads suffers postnatal depression, and up to half of fathers experience depression if they are looking after partners with postnatal depression.

‘We’ve got to start asking why aren’t we screening fathers for mental health when we know the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide.’ He also pointed out that fathers experiencing paternal mental health issues often go missed and ‘end up in mental health services years later’.

The emotional labour of growing up: school-age children’s wellbeing

Athought-provoking talk exploring the developmental tasks of primary school-age children and the ‘emotional labour of growing up’ was delivered by Helen Randall, a consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist and lead for psychotherapy at Forward Thinking Birmingham.

Between the ages of five and 11, a child begins to move from the enclosed world of the family to the wider world, understanding that ‘all families are different’. They become increasingly aware of how they are seen by others, and begin to realise they are being ‘measured and tested’ at school.

This age is also a time when adults ‘encourage them to begin to manage their fears themselves’, said Helen. But the ability to do so depends both on their temperament and whether they have had ‘sufficient attentive care’ in infancy to equip them with the inner resources to draw on in times of distress.

She reflected on the shift from the baby and toddler who ‘demands everything now’ to older children, who can wait for longer and ‘accept and even appreciate boundaries and limits’, pointing out the importance of recognising ‘how hard they have to work’ to behave more unselfishly.

And in making that shift they have also to become aware of their own ‘mean and aggressive feelings, which can cause ‘distress and guilt’, often ‘the reason behind sleeping difficulties and nightmares’.

Another important action was feeding children’s ‘hunger for the life of imagination’. She added: ‘Arts and sports should be available for all.’

And finally, ‘the most powerful thing we can do for children is listen to them’, said Helen. ‘Never underestimate the impact of being a listening adult.’

Information richness attending the Unite-CPHVA conference: Health and Wellbeing for all ages #CPHVAWellbeing21 #drderekmowbray #markwilliams #helenrandall #sallyhogg #1001criticaldays and the always amazingly inspirational and motivating #suzannezeedyk #connectedbaby
Lisa Cassidy @LisaCassidy17

Checking the baby blind spot: babies in lockdown

The ‘baby blind spot’ in mental health policy and provision, and the importance of the first 1001 days of life was the theme for Sally Hogg, head of policy and campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation, and coordinator of the First 1001 Days Movement.

The pandemic ‘created this perfect storm’, she said, with ‘increased pressure on families,’ just as ‘vital formal and informal services’ were pulled away.

Families fared differently, said Sally, as the pandemic ‘shone a spotlight on the gaps that existed and exacerbated those inequalities.’ ‘Where there was stress, conflict, a lack of resources, poor housing, families didn’t have the social, practical, or emotional resources to buffer that, and babies were exposed to a lot of adversity.’

She pointed to evidence of the impact of this beginning to emerge, with cases of the most extreme forms of abuse and neglect of children in local authorities in England going up 50% between April and October compared to the previous six months.

The foundation’s recent joint report Babies in lockdown, which surveyed over 5000 families, also ‘painted a bleak picture’, with parents concerned about mental health, not seeing health visitors faces to face, and inequalities exacerbated for groups already known to be at risk, explained Sally.

Sally asked ‘who was holding babies in mind’ when making decisions and balancing risks?  She also called for catch-up funding to extend to health visiting and other children’s services as well as schools.

Why you matter: sharing the science of human connection

‘How can we help people connect?’ was the question at the heart of Dr Suzanne Zeedyk’s highly interactive presentation, a wide-ranging exploration of the science of human connection.

She demonstrated how ‘babies arrive already connected with other people’ and that connection, and disconnection, from the adults around them is ‘woven into the way their brain and their body develops’.

She began by talking about the impact of being born in the time of Covid, reflecting that ‘if children’s biology is affected by the relationships and relations they have with their parents, then if parents have been struggling, so have children.’

Suzanne said: ‘The mental health ripples of what we have all just been coping with are massive.How do you get systems to act on this given that an awful lot of evidence I’m talking about is nowhere near new.’

Her presentation took delegates right back to the 1930s and 1940s, when ‘attachment theory is born’ and children were evacuated during the war.

With videos of babies at just two and three months anticipating and physically responding to being picked up by their mums providing a ‘nice reminder of how early relationships come,’ she added: ‘You can find opportunities to talk to parents about this… because you are creative enough even if your system isn’t great at facilitating these sorts of things.’

She encouraged us to laugh more, listen and ‘speak your stories’. ‘When we hear other people’s stories about their practice, we feel braver about our own.’

She continued: ‘Whatever is going to happen is going to happen through your creativity and your courage to make it happen, and for both of those things I thank you.’

So proud to have been nominated and to receive this [LAR of the Year]. All nominees are amazing practitioners who fully deserve recognition. #CPHVAWellbeing21
Moira @Moira8537


Thank you

@Unite_CPHVA. A fantastic conference with great speakers, great amount of up to date research disseminated & a lot of food for thought! #ThoroughlyEnjoyed #CPHVAWellbeing21

Bonnie Harley @BonnieHarley8

LAR of the year

The nominees for local accredited representative of the year: Joyce Hill, Rhona Williamson, Doma Hipperson, Pauline Cafferty. The winner: Moira Dawson of the Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer for health, thanked all the reps for their incredible work over the year.

CPHVA Executive chair Janet Taylor concluded an ‘exciting, challenging and thought-provoking’ conference, with thanks and praise for all the speakers and for delegates.

Attending delegates can use their conference log-ins to access resources from the 2021 and 2020 Unite-CPHVA conferences. Visit

Image Credit | Unite-CPHVA | Moira-Dawson

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