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Clinical study shows that POWS improve maternal mental health

7th April 2016

We talk about “evidence-based” services a lot, but for social interventions such as our Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service (POWS) it can be difficult to find proof that the service is successful without resorting to anecdotes and self-reported data.


However, a group of researchers at the University of Birmingham, funded by CLAHRC (Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Research and Care) West Midlands, have recently published their findings from a clinical study into the POW service – and we’re very pleased to note that it shows clear statistical evidence of benefit to the women we support, particularly with regards to their mental health.

The study

The research took the form of a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) – the most academically rigorous way of determining whether a cause-effect relation exists between treatment and outcome.

It looked at 1324 women, some of whom received standard maternity care and some of whom were supported by POWS, and compared outcomes such as antenatal attendance, postnatal depression and mother-to-infant bonding.

The findings

The study found that mother-to-infant bonding is better when mum has the support of a POW.

It also found that, for women who have two or more social risk factors, the intervention of a Pregnancy Outreach Worker was beneficial in preventing postnatal depression.

The study adds, “this finding is important for women and their families given the known effect of maternal depression on longer term childhood outcomes”. It concludes:

This trial provides evidence that a lay support service targeted to women with two or more social risk factors improves aspects of maternal psychological health relative to controls; such improvements are likely to be of lasting impact due to the known effect of maternal depression and poor attachment on longer term childhood outcomes.

This, together with the relatively low costs of the service, means that consideration should be given by policymakers to introduction of a lay support service.

When the trial was being carried out, we worked with a much wider group of women than we do now. The research showed that our interventions have the biggest impact on women with two more more social risk factors – and it is this group that we now work with exclusively.

Our POWs work hard to offer early help to women who are at risk; to make sure that baby arrives safely, and to support mum to be the best parent she possibly can. This study is incredibly helpful in validating the work our brilliant POWs do, and we’re delighted to see it published.

You can read the full study on the BMJ Open website here.

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  1. Rebecca O'Connor

    This is fantastic news for Gateway family services. I was one of the POWS to work on this trial. Gateway do a fantastic job supporting pregnant women and their families though some very difficult times. I hope this will finally mean they get the funding they deserve to expand there support instead of the cuts they have seen in previous years. Well done Gateway and the POWS.

    • Katherine Hewitt

      Becky how lovely to hear from you. It is good news isn’t it and as you say a real endorsement of the work you and your colleagues do/did. Thanks for helping us achieve this and let’s hope it has the effect you wish for as we wish for it too.

  2. Rachael Harris

    I also worked on this trial as a pow. The work the pows do to support women with complex support needs is amazing they deserve recognition, an the women deserve to have a service that is not at threat of funding cuts without the pows a lot of women may not of had such positive pregnancy outcomes …well done pows an all management

    • Katherine Hewitt

      Great to hear from you too Rachel. You were part of achieving this so you should take your share of recognition! It’s a sad reality that providing an essential and high quality service is no longer a guarantee to gaining funding. As you and we know it’s not the case and it gives us problems, like managing to hold onto experienced and dedicated staff who need better job security! Still this research may make some difference as it’s strong evidence that what POWs do works.