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The arrival of a new baby can be an exciting yet vulnerable time for parents; particularly so when a baby has a craniofacial anomaly. Supporting Parents Of Children with Cleft Lip (SPOCCL) is a research study looking at how best to provide extra support to families who have a baby with a cleft lip in the first few weeks of their baby's life.

Cleft affects approximately 1 in 600 infants in the UK. In collaboration with NHS cleft teams from across the south east of England, we looked at different ways of helping families who have a baby with cleft lip, during the time before the baby receives surgery. We are hoping to improve our knowledge of parents’ needs when their baby is diagnosed with a cleft lip as well as the development of the future care of families.

Our aim was to test whether a treatment aimed at enhancing the quality of the mother infant interactions, in the first 10 weeks improves mothers' sensitivity to their babies and leads to a better cognitive development of the baby at 18 months. We randomly assigned half of the participants to 'Watch & Discover' treatment, and the other half to 'Support, Information and Advice'. 'Watch & Discover' was the test treatment, whereby we made short films of the mother and baby together and then watched them back with the mother highlighting positive interactions and their baby's cues. In this way we hoped to enhance the quality of the mother child interaction. The comparison treatment group received support, information and advice which gave the opportunity to discuss issues around having a baby with cleft lip. We visited the mother and baby at home over 6 sessions, starting when the baby was between 1 and 2 weeks old, and ending before the baby had lip surgery at 12 weeks. Assessment of the baby's development and mother child interactions took place at 11 weeks (after the treatment had finished), 9 months and 18 months, with the final assessment of cognitive outcome at 18 months.

Watch & Discover is an approach that looks at how your baby explores the world around him/her and communicates with you. It involves the research psychologist making short films of the mother and her baby in a play situation or doing ‘every day’ things. During the sessions the mother looks at these videos together with the researcher and discusses them. This can help parents to understand more about babies’ facial and social signals, and how they experience the world.

Support, Information and Advice is a time for the mother to discuss with the research psychologist any emotional issues that can sometimes arise for parents of a baby with a cleft, and gives mothers the opportunity to talk about their own thoughts and feelings. The research psychologist can provide the mother with specific psychological means of managing any concerns the mother may have.

Recruitment to this study has now been completed and we are enormously grateful to all of the families who helped with this work.

The study was funded by The Barclay Foundation and we hugely appreciate all of the support they have provided to our research and group.