Supporting parents during the COVID-19 pandemic – Australian parent organisation shares best practice in reaching out digitally

Across the world parents of premature babies are deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The hospitals’ safety measures taken to protect against COVID-19 often separate parents form their newborns, even when the whole family is healthy. Worldwide parent organisations do their best in order to support those families in need. We talked to Kylie Pussell, CEO and Co-Founder of the Miracle Babies Foundation, about how the current situation changed the way the foundation is reaching out to parents.

© Kylie Pussel

Mrs Pussell, exchanging knowledge and sharing experience are always important but even more so in times of COVID-19. What do you offer to support your parent network in terms of exchange and support in your country?

In Australia, on 20 March 2020 Miracle Babies Foundation made the difficult decision to suspend our face to face services due to COVID-19. The services impacted were our NurtureTime, in hospital parent support in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Special Care Nursery (SCN) and NurtureGroup, our support services for families in the community after baby has been discharged. We have continued to support these families through their relevant Facebook NurtureGroup private groups and doing check in calls to our families to see how they are coping and providing connection and support through our NurtureLine, 24 hour family support helpline. We also adapted our NurtureTime sessions into NurtureTime Online – we hold 2 sessions per day (Monday-Friday) of 1 hour duration each where families from across Australia can register to attend a session. NurtureTime Online is run through the ZOOM platform and our NurtureProgram Support Team Members facilitate the sessions. An evaluation form is sent to each participant also following attendance of a NurtureTime Online session to further improve the service.

What did it take to practically manage your service?

It took quick action to adapt to the online support, drafting procedures for our NurtureProgram Team to report back and training sheets to assist in delivering a ZOOM session. Setting up each session in ZOOM and having our communications team update our website and social media promotion. Posters and flyers have also been emailed to hospitals to promote to families. Our NurtureProgram team have been open to innovation and new delivery methods so it has been a positive process.

What should be taken into account by establishing a service as you did?

Training and procedures around who will run the sessions, reporting etc. should be considered. The number of people per session (we limit to 6). Your overall objective of the service, how long you will deliver support this way, how will this impact other services and funding agreements for other deliveries. We decided to only provide support and connection through the services at this time, with the aim of it being a short term service delivery until we can go back to face to face services. We also run a trial of NurtureGroup Online for rural families so we did not want the service to be too similar as NurtureGroup Online is aimed to be more of a longer term service delivery with access to allied health and medical professionals.

What would you recommend other parent organisations in times of COVID-19?

Keep your information relevant and current to your country or region. Utilise your government information so the same message is clear and concise. Families of premature and ill babies are already at an increased risk of mental health issues, the pandemic has increased this risk and number of parents affected. We see this impact now and feel will continue for many years, especially those that have decreased parent rights to be in the NICU/SCN. Be sensitive that everyone absorbs information and support at different speeds and via different platforms. Keep open and ready to adapt to health changes as they occur in the best interest of your families.

Can you share a positive story around the COVID-19 situation? Is there more communication, more close contact?

 More of a positive hope than a story, that the pandemic will allow more people to fully appreciate the benefit and need for human connection and human touch. A hug to an upset friend or family member can mean so much more than words on the phone or social media. The digital world has a place in society, but hopefully more of us find a happy medium that time and attention on our loved ones is so important and being ‘present in the moment’ is a powerful moment in time.

Mrs Pussell, thank you very much for your insights.

For further information about COVID-19 concerning maternal and newborn health you might also want to read the following articles: