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Services and support for parents

What does a health visitor do?

Media last reviewed: 20/03/2014

Next review due: 20/03/2016

Health services for parents

Family doctors (GPs)

You can contact your family doctor (GP) at any time, whether it's for you or your child. Some GPs will see small babies at the beginning of surgery hours or without an appointment, but be prepared to wait.

Some will give advice over the phone. Most GPs provide developmental reviews and vaccinations, or you can go to a child health clinic.

Register your baby with your GP as early as possible in case you need their help. You can use the pink card that you'll be given when you register your baby's birth. Sign the card and take or send it to your GP.

If you want the GP to see your baby before you've registered the birth, you can go to the surgery and fill in a registration form there. If you move, register with a new doctor close to you as soon as possible.

Find a GP in your area.

How to change your GP

You may need to change your GP if you move, as well as for other reasons. You first need to find a GP who'll take you on. Ask around and see if anybody can recommend one. Your local PALS or our online services search can give you a list of the doctors in your area. You may have to try more than one GP before you find one willing to accept you, especially if you live in a heavily populated area.

If you can't find a GP after several attempts, your local NHS organisation can do it for you. Send them your medical card, if you have it, or the address of your previous GP.

When you visit your new GP surgery, leave your medical card with the receptionist. You don't have to contact your old GP. If you've lost your medical card, your new GP will probably ask you to complete a form instead. In some cases they may want you to contact your clinical commissioning group (CCG) and obtain a new medical card.

You'll need to give the local NHS organisation the name and address of your old GP. If you don't know it, the process could take longer. If you need treatment in the meantime, you can approach any GP, who must take you on at least temporarily. It's best to say up front that you need treatment straight away, even if you're also asking to be permanently registered with that GP.

Health visitors

A health visitor will usually visit you for the first time around 10 days after your baby is born. After that, you will see your health visitor at the child health clinic, although you can ask to see them at any time. If you're bringing up a child on your own or struggling, your health visitor will probably come to see whether you need any help.

A health visitor is a qualified nurse who has had extra training. Part of their role is to help families avoid illness and stay healthy, especially families with babies and young children. Health visitors are members of a team that offers screening and developmental reviews as part of the Healthy Child Programme, as well as vaccinations.

Talk to your health visitor or a member of the team if you feel anxious, depressed or worried. They can give you advice and suggest where to find help. They may also be able to put you in touch with groups where you can meet other mothers.

Your health visitor can visit you at home, or you can see them at your child health clinic, GP surgery or health centre, depending on where they're based. Your health visitor will make sure you've got their phone number.

Child health clinics

Child health clinics are run by health visitors and doctors. They offer regular health and development reviews and vaccinations. You can talk about any problems to do with your child, but if your child is ill and likely to need treatment, go to your GP. Some child health clinics also run mother and baby, parent and toddler, breastfeeding and peer support groups.

Community midwives

You'll be given contact details for midwives based in your local community. Midwives provide antenatal and postnatal care in several different places, including children's centres. They can also visit you in your own home.

Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)

Sometimes children need more specialist help with their emotional health, development or behaviour. CAMHS professionals are trained to understand children's emotional wellbeing and psychological health, as well as the pressures and strains of family life.

If your GP, health visitor or child health worker can't give you the help you need, they may suggest that you see a CAMHS worker.

Local authority services

Sure Start Children's Centres

Children's centres are linked to maternity services. They provide health and family support services, integrated early learning, and full-day or temporary care for children from birth to five years.

They also provide advice and information for parents on a range of issues, from effective parenting to training and employment opportunities. Some have specific services for young parents. 

Family Information Service

Your local Family Information Service (FIS) aims to help you support your children by providing a range of information specifically for parents. Each FIS has close links with children's centres, Jobcentre Plus, schools, careers advisers, youth clubs and libraries. They can offer information about local childcare services and availability, and help you if you need childcare for a child with a disability or special needs.  

Find your local FIS.

Education departments

The education department is responsible for and can provide information about all state-run nursery schools, nursery classes and infant schools in your area. The department also assesses children with special needs and provides suitable education for them. You'll find your local education department in the phone book under the name of your local authority.

Housing departments

The housing department (in the phone book under the name of your local authority) is responsible for all council housing in your area. It runs the council housing waiting list.

It has a legal duty to house people in certain priority groups who are homeless (or soon will be) through no fault of their own. Priority groups include pregnant women and parents of children under 16. Through your housing department, you can find out about local housing associations, which provide housing for rent and, in some cases, shared ownership.

Social workers

Social workers provide support for people who have difficulty coping, financially or practically. A social worker may be able to get your child a nursery place, help you find better housing and give you information about your rights.

To contact a social worker, phone your local social services department or ask your health visitor to put you in touch.

Independent advice centres

Advice centres are non-profit agencies that give advice on issues such as benefits and housing. They include the Citizens Advice Bureau, community law centres, welfare rights offices, housing aid centres, neighbourhood centres and community projects.

Look for them under these names in your phone book or under the name of your local authority.

To help you get the most out of services, remember:

  • You may have a number of issues to discuss. Before you go, think about what you want to talk about and what information you can give that'll be helpful. It can help to make some notes and take them with you as a reminder.
  • It's much easier to talk and listen if you're not distracted. Unless your child needs to be with you, try to get a friend or neighbour to look after them so that you can concentrate.
  • If you have to take your child, bring some books or toys with you to entertain them.
  • Take time to think about the answers or advice you're given. At first you may think that it's not what you're looking for, but it may be a solution you haven't considered. If you still think it won't work, explain why and try to come up with some different ideas.
  • If a problem is making life difficult or is really worrying you, keep going until you get some kind of answer, if not a solution. If the first person you talk to can't help, ask if they can suggest where else you might go. If your GP or health visitor suggests a solution that doesn't work, go back and ask again.
  • Some professionals aren't good at explaining things. If you don't understand, then say so. It's their responsibility to be clear – it's not up to you to guess what they mean. Go back over what they said to make sure that you understand. It may help if they write it down for you.
  • If English isn't your first language, you may be able to get help from a link worker or health advocate. Their job isn't just to translate the words, but to act as a friend and make sure that the professionals understand what you need. Ask your health visitor or staff at your local Sure Start Children's Centre if there's a link worker or health advocate in your area.

Useful websites, helplines and support groups for parents

ACE Education

Information, support and legal advice to help parents keep their children at school.

  • Helpline: 0300 011 5142
  • Website:
  • Opening hours: Monday to Wednesday 10am-10pm during term time


Positive discipline can help encourage your child and keep you calm. It’s easy to join a local group or find online support on child behaviour and more. Visit the CANparent website or phone 0808 800 1102.

Contact a Family

Support, advice and information for parents with disabled children.

  • Helpline: 0808 808 3555
  • Website:
  • Opening hours: Monday 10am-4pm and 5.30-7.30pm, Tuesday to Friday 10am-4pm

Coram CLC Children's Legal Centre

Legal advice and information on child, family and education law.

Family Lives

An organisation providing immediate help from volunteer parent support workers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • Helpline: 0808 800 2222
  • Website:  
  • Opening hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Family Rights Group Advice Service

Support for parents and other family members whose children are involved with or need social care services.

  • Helpline: 0808 801 0366
  • Website:
  • Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9.30am-3pm

Gingerbread: single parents, equal families

Help and advice on the issues that matter to lone parents.

  • Helpline: 0808 802 0925
  • Website:     
  • Opening hours: Monday 10am-6pm, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10am-4pm, Wednesday 10am-1pm and 5-7pm


Service for any parent worried about their child's mental health. 

To find out about local groups, try the following:

  • Ask your health visitor or GP.
  • Ask at your local Citizens Advice Bureau or other advice centre, your local library, social services department or Council for Voluntary Service (see the phone book; this may also be listed under Voluntary Action Group, Rural Community Council or Volunteer Bureau).
  • Look on noticeboards and for leaflets in your child health clinic, health centre, GP's waiting room, Sure Start Children's Centre, local library, advice centre, supermarket, newsagent or toy shop.

In many areas there are groups that offer support to parents who share the same background and culture. Many of these are women's or mothers' groups. Many Sure Start Children's Centres also run fathers' groups and separate groups for teenage mothers and fathers. Your health visitor may know whether there are any groups like these near you.

Starting your own parent support group

If you can't find a local group that suits you or can't find the support you need, why not start your own group?

Many local groups begin when a couple of mothers (perhaps with crying babies or sleepless toddlers, or who are just fed up and lonely) get together and start a group.

You could advertise on your clinic noticeboard or in a newsagent's window or local newspaper, or ask your health visitor to put you in touch with other parents in the same situation as yourself. You don't have to offer any more than a place to meet and have a few cups of coffee.

Page last reviewed: 07/01/2014

Next review due: 07/01/2016


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