Meeting core mental health needs using a hands-on approach to neurodevelopment: Use of the First Touch Program with Infants to level-out mental health risk factors.

By June 13, 2018 No Comments

Deborah Lockwood from Relationships Australia SA, discusses how the simple, low-cost and culturally adaptable intervention of cue based infant massage can have a long-term impact on mental health. 

1. How did you first become involved in your field?

In 2009 I set up Together4Kids, a therapeutic service for children aged 0 – 12 who had experienced family domestic violence and homelessness. One of the team, as well as post grad qualifications, also had a Certificate in Infant Massage Instruction. I was intrigued and soon realised that ‘baby massage’ was a simple but not simplistic, activity. My interest in infant mental health began. Since that time the first thousand days of an infant’s life (from conception to aged 2 yrs.) is getting the attention of researchers and funders and is acknowledged as the best opportunity to develop a strong healthy foundation for optimal development into happier adult lives.

2. If people could know one point about your work what would you like them to know?

 Cue based infant massage is not rocket science – but it is neuroscience! Baby in Mind Educators are specially trained in a cue-based approach to teaching infant massage and supporting parent-infant interaction. Parents are supported to explore and develop confidence in noticing and understanding their baby’s cues. Emotional regulation is fundamental to early mental health and physical development. This simple, joyful activity can be utilised across a range of family support services, it is low to no cost, gently encouraging cue based interaction and encourages wonder and delight from parent to infant using voice, touch and eye contact that support attachment and attunement.

3. What’s one thing not many people know about you?

My daughter and son in law run one of the best Thai Restaurants in the city centre! Check it out Soi 38 on Trip Advisor.

4. Why are you looking forward to coming to Adelaide?

I live in Adelaide so I am looking forward to others visiting and seeing what a beautiful and friendly city we have, which is located on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people. I encourage visitors to find out more about the living Kaurna culture by visiting Tandanya 253 Grenfell St. Adelaide, ,Tandanya https://www.tandanya.com.au/ or doing the Adelaide Kaurna Walking Trail which you can join outside the Conference Centre along the River Torrens (Karrawirra pari)

5. Where can people find out more about your work?

For beautiful stories and the evidence and theory behind The First Touch program go to http://babyinmind.org.au/ and especially read about how the First Touch program is being delivered by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal families here http://babyinmind.org.au/infant-massage-supporting-aboriginal-parents-children-national-snaicc-conference-2017/

Together4Kids page describes a lot of the work that is done with homeless families in South Australia at https://www.rasa.org.au/services/couples-families/together-4-kids/

TheMHS Conference – S33: PAPERS: Perinatal & Infant Mental Health

Wednesday, August 29, 2018, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM, Riverbank Room 4 – ‘Meeting core mental health needs using a hands-on approach to neurodevelopment: Use of the First Touch Program with Infants to level-out mental health risk factors.’

Deborah’s abstract for TheMHS Conference

Early indicators of mental health vulnerability are often observable during infancy, but typically only as whispers: small behaviours perceptible only to trained observers, or using sensitive brain imaging and genetic testing tools. However, the evidence is clear: any genuine attempt to reduce mental illness must more closely respond to the voices of babies about their mental health development needs. For the past five years, Relationships Australia South Australia (RASA) has been listening and responding to these whispers. Working in partnership with Baby in Mind, RASA has equipped staff with skills to deliver the First Touch Program®. This simple, low-cost and culturally adaptable intervention directly addresses some of the neurodevelopmental processes occurring in infancy that directly impact on life-course mental health outcomes. This paper will describe the First Touch Program® and its underpinnings in neurological and mental health literature – particularly the current research in Affect Regulation and Polyvagal theories. We will then explore some of the practical applications of the program in different settings, and evaluation evidence. The paper will conclude by examining the work undertaken by RASA in using the program to more broadly strengthen their capacity in applying evidence-informed approaches to influence life-course mental health outcomes. 

Deborah Lockwood

Deborah is General Manager of Children’s Programs across Relationships Australia SA. Her multi-disciplinary teams provide therapeutic support to children and psycho- education to parents and families experiencing the effects of trauma, where mental health is compromised and those at risk of child protection department involvement. With a focus on the first thousand days of a child’s life and on infant mental health in particular, Deborah has designed and implemented a range of infant and parent programs that support attachment and attunement, increase parent wellbeing and confidence in their parenting