What does a health visitor do?

Health visitors are nurses or midwives trained in community public health. They work to improve health and reduce inequalities through a proactive service for all children and their families.

 

Health visitors work with families who have new babies, offering support and advice from before birth until the child starts school. They are usually based in children’s centres, surgeries, and community or health centres. 

They offer families several home visits from late pregnancy through to a developmental assessment when the child turns two. These visits usually take place at home, but the health visitor may also invite families to groups, clinics and networks outside the home.

Families from all walks of life may need support for specific issues that affect their child’s health and development, so the service provided to each family will vary according to an assessment of their needs and evidence of what will work best for them.

What services are offered to other family members?

Health visiting is about taking a holistic approach—so health visitors think about the child in the context of the wider family. By supporting the physical and mental health of all family members, the health visitor can best support the health and development of the child.

For instance, a health visitor can help families with advice on exercise and nutrition which, in turn, promotes wellbeing. They can also support couples in their relationship and how parents and carers bond with their child, allowing the child to feel happy and secure at home. 

Regardless of the support being offered, health visiting is usually about early intervention—building good habits and dealing with issues as early as possible. This, in turn, leads to healthier children who can thrive in life, as well as better public health outcomes many years later.

How has COVID-19 affected health visits? 

The pandemic has been a challenging time for families with young children. As we move beyond the peak, we are beginning to see reports highlighting some of the consequences of COVID-19 on mental health, rates of domestic violence and abuse, and children going into care.

At this time, it is important for families to stay connected with their health visitor, even if this is difficult due to lockdown restrictions. By continuing to have these conversations, health visitors can understand a family’s situation, identify those in need, and provide necessary help and support.

Health visiting support has and will continue throughout the pandemic, although some services have been temporarily stopped while others are being provided remotely using telephone and video calls. For more immediate help, the College has published guidance for many common symptoms.
 

You can find out more from the Institute of Health Visiting. You can also read their open letter calling for UK parties to commit to manifesto pledges for children—including calls for financial investment, an emphasis on prevention and early intervention, and rebuilding the workforce.