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Open Access Research article

Negotiating policy in practice: child and family health nurses’ approach to the process of postnatal psychosocial assessment

Mellanie Rollans1*, Virginia Schmied1, Lynn Kemp2 and Tanya Meade3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

2 Centre for Health Equity Training Research Evaluation (CHETRE), Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, University of NSW, Sydney, 2052, Australia

3 School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:133  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-133

Published: 8 April 2013

Abstract

Background

There is growing recognition internationally of the need to identify women with risk factors for poor perinatal mental health in pregnancy and following birth. In the state of New South Wales, Australia the Supporting Families Early policy provides a framework of assessment and support for women and families and includes routine psychosocial assessment and depression screening. This study investigated the approach taken by Child and Family Health Nurses (CFHNs) following birth to assessment and screening as recommended by state policy. This was a qualitative ethnographic study that included 83 CFHN and 20 women. Observations occurred with thirteen nurses; with 20 women, in the home or the clinic environment. An additional 70 nurses participated in discussion groups. An observational tool (4D&4R) and field notes were used to record observations and analysed descriptively using frequencies. Field notes, interview data and discussion group transcripts were analysed thematically.

Methods

This was a qualitative ethnographic study that included 83 CFHN and 20 women. Observations occurred with thirteen nurses; with 20 women, in the home or the clinic environment. An additional 70 nurses participated in discussion groups. An observational tool (4D&4R) and field notes were used to record observations and analysed descriptively using frequencies. Field notes, interview data and discussion group transcripts were analysed thematically.

Results

CFHNs demonstrated a range of approaches to assessment and screening. Psychosocial assessment was conducted in 50% (10 out of the 20) of the interactions observed; however, all the women were screened using the Edinburgh Depression Scale. Four major themes that represent the approach taken to the assessment process were identified: ‘Engagement: getting that first bit right’, ‘Doing some paperwork’, ‘Creating comfort’ and ‘Psychosocial assessment: doing it another way’. Nurses utilised other skills such as observing the women interacting with their baby, taking note of non verbal communication and using intuition to develop a clinical decision.

Conclusion

Overall, nurses’ took a sensitive and caring approach to assessment and screening, however, there were differences in interpretations of the policy recommendations across the two sites. Nurses adopt a flexible, relationship-based approach to the assessment process; however, they experience tension when required to incorporate structured psychosocial assessment processes. To undertake assessment and screening effectively, CFHNs require ongoing support, training and supervision to maintain this sensitive and emotionally challenging work.

Keywords:
Psychosocial assessment; Depression screening; Child and family health nurses; Perinatal mental health; Postnatal depression; Domestic violence screening; Home visiting