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Feasibility of a web-based program for parents with preterm children

Investigators: Dr Karli Treyvaud, Prof Lex Doyle, Dr Peter Anderson

(Victorian Infant Brain Studies, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

Summary of Results

Our research group (Victorian Infant Brain Studies) has developed a home-visiting intervention program for families with preterm children, and we want to make the program accessible to more families by adapting it for the internet. We conducted this study with the help of the Life’s Little Treasures Foundation to better understand the types of information and support that families with preterm children have accessed, where they go for information and support, and their thoughts about the benefits and problems associated with a web-based intervention program.

After sending surveys to parents in the Life’s Little Treasures Foundation in October 2010, we received 76 surveys back within 12 weeks. To begin, we wanted to know the types of services parents with preterm children have accessed and any barriers they experienced accessing these services. The results from the survey suggested that within the first 12 months after birth, approximately a quarter of parents had accessed a sleep/settling specialist, dietician, speech therapist or occupational therapy for their child. Many families attended playgroup (45%), and the most commonly used specialist service was physiotherapy (39% of parents had used).

Regarding services for the parents/family within the first 12 months after birth, almost half of parents who completed the survey had attended a mother’s/father’s group, and approximately one third had accessed a parent support group. This suggests that seeking support from other parents is quite common. Almost a quarter of parents who completed the survey indicated they had seen a psychologist or psychiatrist in the 12 months following their child’s birth. On average, services for children and parents received a helpfulness rating of “very helpful”. Almost 40% of parents reported that barriers to accessing services were not being sure which services were available or where to find them, and services not being experienced with preterm children.

We also wanted to understand where parents with preterm children look for information about child development and parenting during the first 12 months after birth. The majority of parents had sought information about topics such as the possible influence of preterm birth on children’s development and children’s medical/general health information. Almost all (94%) of parents who completed the survey had used the maternal and child health nurse service for information. Overall, parents reported that the most helpful sources of information were hospital clinicians and doctors, and parent support organisations.

The majority of parents who completed the survey had used the internet as a source of information, and over half (57%) reported they would consider doing a web-based program that focused on promoting child development or supporting parents. The most common potential barriers to doing a web-based program were having no time/being too busy and not being able to speak with someone face to face, but these were rated as small problems overall. The most important things parents thought should be included in a web-based program were being able to complete the program in their own time, and having quality assured, evidence based and preterm-specific information. We would like to thank all parents who participated in this study.

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