Community Mothers offer great support to new parents

The Community Mothers Programme, established in 1999, is a home-visiting, peer-led support service, offered to all parents with children up to 5 years, living in the Clonmel area and surrounds.

The Community Mothers Programme, established in 1999, is a home-visiting, peer-led support service, offered to all parents with children up to 5 years, living in the Clonmel area and surrounds.

Phil Mackey, Pre-School Services Officer, HSE, was a key figure in the setting up of the organisation, having identified through her studies and work as a public health nurse the value of a peer-led support service for parents of young children.

Community Mothers is a simple concept that works very well and is of particular relevance to those with new babies. Values of the Community Mother Programme were built around a core principle - empowerment of parents to rear and educate their children. The number of parents accessing the the services has grown steadily over the years and it enjoys multi-cultural participation. Community Mothers Catherine O'Meara, Margaret Waters and Sharon Walsh are experienced parents who offer a professional service providing support, information and affirmation to participants by supporting parents and developing their self-esteem. The service is confidential and free of charge.

When a parent requests the Programme a Community Mother will call to their home or they can arrange to meet at the Programme office. Home Visits centre around the parent's needs as an individual. Topics they may wish to discuss with their Community Mother include breast and bottle- feeding; teething; weaning; sleepless nights; toilet training; how to live through the "terrible twos"; parenting skills; and enjoying their child's early years.

Community Mothers meet parents on their own terms, as understanding parenthood has developmental stages, with unique tasks at each point along the way. Community Mothers have an excellent knowledge of activities and voluntary and statutory services in the area, particularly for those with young families. Parents who are not living in the Clonmel area may meet with a Community Mother in the Programme office.

In 2001 a need was identified to provide parents with an opportunity to meet other parents with small babies and toddlers. Subsequently a Mother and Baby group and three Parent and Toddler groups were established and these meet on a weekly basis.

These groups are facilitated by Community Mothers Margaret Waters and Catherine O'Meara, with the Parent and Toddler groups supported by valued volunteers Caroline McNamara, Christine Heywood and Margo Grace. Information evenings are also held and workshops are delivered by various professionals on issues relevant to parents.

The Mother and Baby Group meets each Monday from 2 pm to 3.30 pm at Clonmel Resource Centre, Kickham Street.

The Parent and Toddler Groups meet each Monday from 10 am – 12 noon at the Elm Park Community Centre; and on Wednesday and Thursday from 10 am – 12 noon at St. Mary's Parish Hall in Irishtown.

Parents may access the Programme through their ante-natal clinic, Public Health Nurse or by contacting Jill Sandvoss, Programme Co-ordinator at the office located in Room 3, Clonmel Community Resource Centre, Kickham Street, Clonmel.

Catherine O'Meara has experienced the Programme from both angles, as a participant and now as a Community Mother herself. Catherine first found out about the service at ante-natal classes and then attended the Mother and Baby and Parent and Toddler groups after her baby Katie was born. "What I found great about it was the support and the information you get." Catherine started doing voluntary work at the Parent and Toddler groups, and when a position arose to become a Community Mother she decided to apply. "I've been a Community Mother for 6 years and enjoy it immensely. It's so different being on the other side. It's very interesting and rewarding, meeting parents from all sectors of the community."

Funding for the Community Mother Programme is provided by the Health Service Executive, with the Parent and Toddler groups funded by the Health Service Executive and the Katharine Howard Foundation/County Childcare Committee.

As with all other voluntary and community services, the Community Mother Programme has suffered financial cutbacks over the past three years. While the demand for the service grows, the financial implications prove to be very worrying for the Board of Management, Programme Co-ordinator and staff.

All parents of children up to the age of 5 are invited to avail of the Community Mother Home Visiting Service.

For further information contact Jill Sandvoss, Programme Co-ordinator at the Community Mother Programme Office, Room 3, Clonmel Resource Centre, Kickham Street, Clonmel, telephone 052-6128199.