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Sharing best practice - NeoMates

We speak to Wirral University Teaching Hospital’s Jacqui Morgan and Oliver Rackham, who are leading the way in family engagement with NeoMates – a peer support network for parents who have had a baby on the Arrowe Park Neonatal Unit.

What is NeoMates?

NeoMates is a parents’ peer support group with a difference. It’s a place where everyone talks the same language and understands the challenges each other are facing.

It all started about 5 years ago. When we engaged with parents on the Neonatal unit at Arrowe Park, they felt like they had been dropped off the face of the earth. They were feeling anxious and vulnerable, but there was nothing in place that connected these parents together. We wanted to create a community that encouraged communication in a welcoming environment.

We now have a weekly face to face session at the hospital (but off the unit), where we welcome parents who are either on the unit or who have since gone home to share their experiences. We also have a closed Facebook group that allows people to stay connected, share their progress and support each other.

Why does it work so well?

Our NeoMates are all on different parts of their journey, but they share a common bond. People currently on the unit can speak to those who have come through the other side. Whereas those who have left hospital and gone home can sometimes feel like they’re facing their next steps alone. NeoMates gives them that ongoing support from people who understand. Sometimes people just need a normal conversation off the ward. NeoMates is a forum that caters to all these different needs.

Online the NeoMates community is going from strength to strength. People really appreciate having access to 24/7 peer support (we regularly see people posting and chatting in the middle of the night!). Parents often post pictures of their baby’s progress once they’re home, which can give much needed inspiration to others.

In addition to our Arrowe Park NeoMates Facebook community, we have set up a NeoMatesUK page, which now has over 500 members. We know how important NeoMates has been to people at a local level, and we wanted to encourage similar support for parents from across the country who are accessing  Neonatal services.

As we evolved over the years we discovered that dads can sometimes feel less comfortable talking about their emotional or psychological wellbeing in front of mums. We wanted to make sure everyone had a safe space to share their experiences, so we thought about how we could support dads. This led to us forming NeoMatesDads. We linked in with Widnes Vikings to offer dads a special day out with the club, where they got some exercise and healthy lifestyle advice, met players, toured the stadium and had some important bonding time.

What is the future for NeoMates?

Our vision for NeoMates is to see it picked up by every neonatal unit. Although the NeoMatesUK page has really taken off, we think that people also need this community support at a local level. We’d really encourage all other services to look at the success of NeoMates and follow in our footsteps.

Of course, we also want to continue to support people accessing the Neonatal service at Arrowe Park to become part of our NeoMates community.

How can I find out more?

If you’re interested in setting up your own NeoMates group or have any questions about how we went about it, feel free to drop us a line at Oliver.Rackham@nhs.net or JMorgan7@nhs.net.

What do people say about NeoMates?

“I live far away and depend on this group when I’m out of my depth.”

“It’s the only group where no one looks down on you or judges you.”

“A 24/7 family united by an experience which none of us chose but which brought us all together.”

“We are family, I’ve got NICU Ninjas with me.”