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Parent and Infant Unit

Make a Referral
The Parent and Infant Unit is a residential support and assessment service for parents with infant children. While living on the unit, parents take part in a parenting assessment while also engaging in a programme of therapeutic support and key working tailored to meet their individual needs.

The Parent and Infant Unit’s framework is underpinned by Infant Mental Health, Parenting Development, and Trauma Informed Care principles. A recommendation on parents’ parental capacity is arrived at through understanding and weighing up risk and protective factors alongside a parent’s ability to receive intervention in relation to parenting and personal development.

This means is that at the end of the assessment, the team will make recommendations about parents’ ability to look after their infant, what support they may need to be able to do this safely in the community. Whilst the overall aim of support and development opportunities provided to parents whilst resident on the unit is to allow families stay together safely, sometimes if there is too high a level of risk posed to an infant child in its parents’ care, with no reliable support options available to them in the community, foster care for the infant is a recommendation of the assessment.

It was suggested by my aftercare worker that I would go to Childhood Matters. At first, I was really scared to go there, I felt like it was a bad thing and I just didn’t like the thought of it…
But It turned out to be a positive experience for me…

I learned practical parenting skills: like feeding, different winding techniques, how to make bottles properly and I got into a good routine.
I loved ‘Baby Massage’ classes and ‘Babble’ group. In Babble group, I got to sit in a circle with my baby and other residents, I spoke about the positive things my baby did this week. There was also space to talk about what was causing me any stress. I was able to look at ways to be able to emotional regulate.

Since I left Childhood Matters, I have had another baby and I am using all the skills I learned there to benefit her. My time there has helped me to develop a good routine and how to interact with my babies. I continue to use the skills I have learned there. Attending Childhood Matters has been a positive experience in my life.”

What staying with us looks like

The Parent and Infant unit is made up of a large newly renovated kitchen, two living room spaces and individual ensuite bedrooms. There is a large team made up of Social Care staff, Clinical/Counselling Psychologists and Infant Mental Health Professionals. The team are available 24/7 to offer feedback, guidance and advice throughout the assessment, in order for a parent to develop skills they need support with or may not have learned themselves when being parented.

The team at Childhood Matters use a relational model to support parents to achieve their best recognise the right of all persons to be treated fairly with dignity and respect. Through these relationships we provide guidance and support to each individual client to develop their self-esteem and learning of parenting, life and social skills. There is a strong emphasis on realistic expectations and parent(s)’s capacity to change.

Interventions offered

In order to carry out the assessment and offer support, the unit is staffed all day and night to offer advice and support, through role modelling, parenting demonstration and parenting tools such as timetable and feeding charts.

A family living on the unit may be asked to engage with the following supports and interventions:

Psychological assessment

As part of the assessment process, we develop an understanding of how best to support you and your family through psychological assessment.

This tells us about:

  • Your learning style or learning support needs
  • Your mental health and how best to understand it
  • Your parenting style
  • The impact your previous experiences may have on your parenting
  • Your ability to plan, organise and multi-task – all key cognitive processes for parenting

Psychological intervention

Parents can engage with a counselling space while resident in the Parent and Infant unit, if this is deemed appropriate at that time.

Parenting support

Parenting intervention, support and learning are core aspects of a residential placement within the Parent and Infant Unit. Parenting is taught in formal sessions and is modelled both on a formal and informal basis. Parents may engage in Circle of Security Parenting programme and/or Parents Under Pressure Parenting Programme.

Key working sessions

Each family has two keyworkers. These are staff members who support a family through their placement, while offering formal sessions on parenting and life skills. They co-ordinate and ensure that the wider team focus is on progressing the parent and infants’ placement plan and the parent and infant’s life in the centre.

Peep Group

This is a weekly infant mental health based parent and baby group. It is baby-centred and aims to promote parental reflective functioning among parents in the group, focusing on how they regard their babies, and themselves as parents.

Emotional Regulation Group

This is an open-ended group programme which meets weekly. The aim of the group is help parents to develop skills in managing difficult feeling, communicate more efficiently and use techniques to regulate their emotions in times of stress.

Parent and Infant sessions

The aim of this work to strengthen the growing relationship between mother/father and baby through play and interaction, promote reflective functioning in parents and support parents to understand and encourage their child’s development.


All parents discharged from the the parent and infant unit can benefit from aftercare. This is a really useful way of continuing to build on skills and personal development achieved whilst resident on the unit.

Baby Massage

A baby massage therapist comes to the unit weekly, offering parents the opportunity to learn massage techniques to use with their infants.  The use of massage with infants has a positive impact on bonding, brain and muscle development.

Parents! – Have you been referred to the Parent and Infant Unit?

We understand that you must be having a difficult time right now, and you may be feeling scared, confused, angry, or a mix of all of these emotions. We at the Parent and Infant unit recognize that leaving your family and everything you know to spend 16 weeks living with other people and working closely with staff on the Parent and Infant unit is a big ask of you. We will do all we can to ensure that your time with Childhood Matters is rewarding.

Please ring Marie O’ Riordan, Parent & Infant Unit Manager on 021 4357730 if you want to talk more about the Parent and Infant unit and she will try to answer your questions.

Placement Criteria

Any family where there are concerns for the infant’s safety, protection and/or welfare can be referred to the Parent and Infant unit. Infant up to 2.5 years are eligible to attend with their parent(s) of any age. Single parents or couples can be referred. Typical referrals include:

  • Parents with drug and alcohol addictions and have demonstrated
  • a commitment to rehabilitation.
  • Parents with additional learning needs
  • Parents with mental health difficulties
  • Single parents or couples who are teenagers
  • Families who have previously presented a risk of violence or domestic violence
  • Families where they may have been previous injuries to children
  • Parents with a history of volatile behaviour
  • Parents who are or have been in care of the state
  • Families who have a history of neglect
  • Pre- or post- birth parents who need supports while reflecting on
  • the future care of their baby
Parent and Infant Unit

Not all referrals are accepted in the Parent and Infant unit. Where there is active domestic violence with no exit plan from the relationship, active addiction/misuse of substances without demonstrated commitment to recovery, or where parents experiencing acute mental health difficulties or relational issues that are not conducive to communal living, we encourage referrers to help parents seek appropriate help and support for themselves before attending the unit with their infant.

Referral and Admission

Referrals are accepted nationwide. Typically Tusla Child and Family Agency make the referrals, however any service can refer to include; Guardian Ad Litem, the Court services, Addiction services Homeless services, Medical or Mental Health services or crisis pregnancy services. If there are Child Protection Concerns present in the family, then the Child and Family Agency have to support and manage the referral.
The Parent and Infant unit will only consider a family for admission after receipt of a referral form (see link below). The referral form asks important questions about why the residential service is needed for the family, what are the main concerns for the infants along with questions about the family’s support systems and other professionals involved.
On receipt of the referral, our multidisciplinary management team will review each case based on the individual merits of the family and their suitability or readiness for the programme. If the team consider that the Parent and Infant unit may be able to meet the family’s needs, the parent(s) along with the referring agency will be invited to attend for a pre-admission meeting in Childhood Matters.
Following this, if deemed appropriate, a placement will be offered to the family and date for admission decided on.
Make a Referral

How long is the assessment?

The length of a placement in the Parent and Infant unit is 12 to 16 weeks, which may be extended if necessary and referring agency and parent(s) are in agreement. The reasons a placement may be extended are:
(A) If the assessment is not completed in 16 weeks and the team need more assessment time
(B) If the parent is benefiting from the support and intervention in the residential setting and further time would allow for consolidation or continuation of parenting/personal development.
Our aftercare programme is kindly supported by The Crisis Pregnancy Agency and involves continued support for a fixed period of time post discharge. The unit staff may provide this service or it might be referred our Lime Tree Project.

The Living situation

Families will have their own bedroom and bathroom and share the rest of the spaces with the other families residing in the unit and staff. This includes large kitchen and cooking space, sitting rooms, laundry rooms, landscaped outdoor area and areas to carry out infant care.
When there are many people living together, there are house rules and guidelines that aim to protect the health and safety of families and, to allow for harmony in the unit.

Related Services

The Lime Tree Project
Teen Parent Support Programme