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Sleep School story - a missed opportunity to tell the whole story

Posted by Kerrie Gottliebsen | 24/05/16

As a specialist Statewide early parenting service, Tweddle is often called a Sleep School. This term however can devalue the true impact of our crucial work in the first thousand days of a baby's life (age 0-2).  

As a 95 year old early parenting support service and registered public hospital supporting families statewide, we are often called a Sleep School.  We understand that for the thousands of families that call us for help the term ‘sleep school’ reduces their issues down to one handy term.

In many cases however, an unsettled baby is a symptom of other more serious things happening at home. Crucially, when families phone in for what they think is a baby that needs more sleep, it is an opportunity for a vulnerable mum or dad to unpack a whole range of other concerns.

These may include the stress that comes with  depression and anxiety, adjusting to becoming a parent, housing instability, isolation or financial worries. These sort of things worry a parent, and we know that a child responds to a worried parent by being unsettled.

Rather than sleep, Tweddle programs are underpinned by the growing body of evidence relating to the adverse impact on infants who experience traumatic stress in the crucial early childhood developmental phase.  Family violence is known to negatively impact a mother’s capacity to attune to her infant and to provide responsive, sensitive care.

Parents who are unresponsive, frightened, frightening or abusive are unlikely to be able to provide attuned and appropriate responses for their children. We are here to be the voice of infants who are experiencing distress and disruption in the attachment relationship with their mum or dad.

The quality of interactions and the attachment relationship between a baby and their parent/s is the core process for brain development and impacts on lifelong health and wellbeing outcomes. A parent with multiple complex needs can experience difficulty responding to their child’s needs. Parental behaviours might include anxiety, irritability, anger, hostility, violence, emotional unavailability, harsh or ineffective discipline practices  and fearfulness.   

Tweddle does have a fee for service program where parents can simply get expert sleep and routine advice if that’s all they need. However our public program requires a referral from a health professional and a day stay or 5 day residential stay is only offered to the most vulnerable of families.

Families aren’t admitted into a program if sleep is the only problem. We also don’t take admissions if a baby is yet to be born. Early Parenting Centres provide a critical entry point for parents that aren’t coping, placing infants at risk.

We know the term ‘sleep school’ won’t go away, but we’d like to reinforce that Early Parenting Centres are about strengthening attachment, early brain development, connecting vulnerable families to community supports, helping parents read their child’s cues and understanding why a baby is unsettled in the first place.

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