Four key findings are highlighted.
1. Information needs are complex
Our findings evidence that young mothers have multiple, interrelated, and competing information needs, extending beyond parenting to issues of poverty and personal development, often within sensitive emotional circumstances. Situational and complex, we provide evidence of self-protective secrecy and deception, unrecognised needs, and unmet physiological needs taking precedence over psychological needs. In the majority of instances, assistance is required to meet needs.
Our findings provide depth of insight into the multifaceted complexity of needs, and the importance of recognising the natural order of needs, and issues of receptiveness to other needs when fundamental basic needs are unmet. A developed typology of information needs provides the basis of a holistic classification system, and illustrates multiplicity of needs.
Our findings advance our theoretical understanding of complexity of information needs, and how to practically support needs in the problematic context. Our typology of needs can inform services (what to provide); and our findings on multiplicity and sensitivity of need can inform process (how to provide and when).
2. Interpersonal information sources are preferred
Our young mothers have a preference for interpersonal sources of information reflective of general human preferences for interpersonal communication. Our mothers make frequent use of family, other mothers (face-to-face), and health visitors. Other mothers online, parent group staff, and websites are also considered useful, but used less frequently. GPs, books and other printed materials are considered less useful by mothers, and not used very frequently. Friends without children, librarians, and mobile apps appear largely unused by young mothers.
Our findings evidence that young mothers make high use interpersonal sources because they value experiential advice and situational understanding, and the ability to interactively discuss needs. In relation, we evidence that interpersonal sources are largely localised, with mothers unlikely to seek information from external sources, including State, without support. Stigma is evidenced as a significant influencing factor.
Whilst health visitors and support groups staff are valued by mothers, our findings also identify ineffective interactions with wider groups of professionals across multiple agencies, largely due to impersonal and simplistic one-way communication.
3. Use of State digital health and care services is low
Our young mothers make moderate to low use of online sources of information. Other mothers online and websites are considered useful by some mothers, but are used with less frequency than interpersonal sources, and some mothers indicated no use. Mobile apps are used by some mothers, but to a limited degree during pregnancy and with none indicating use after birth.
Mothers expressed mixed views regarding information from websites, and in relation, indicated very little use of NHS or other state provided digital health and social care services. Our mothers appear to largely use Google and/or social media to make general searches for information, and without reference to specific sources. In relation, several felt that the information that they obtained from such searches was too general to be of use to them. Some mothers also discussed actively avoiding the Internet because they found the volume of information overwhelming. Several who indicated use of state welfare systems discussed difficulties when seeking information, describing situations of uncertainty and confusion, with many uncertain of where to begin, and unable to complete forms without assistance.
Several mothers also discussed a range of practical issues that could impede their attempts to access online information. Several indicated that they did not own or have access to a computer and/or were unable to afford or eligible for home telephone or broadband, with many reliant on their mobile phone for calls and Internet access, and via limited pre-paid credit.
Our findings evidence that digital cannot be viewed as a primary form of information dissemination amongst vulnerable young first-time mothers, and that holistic interpersonal approaches remain important. This has significant implications for public policy and digital health and social care strategies.
4. Human information intermediaries are vital
Our findings evidence an important human information intermediary role in health and social care professionals, with three key contributions to information behaviours in disadvantaged and dependent circumstances. Intermediaries:
- Facilitate information needs recognition, and measured purposeful action within problematic situations.
- Are a key source of information in themselves, and a key integrative connection to other external sources not otherwise accessed.
- Tailor and personalise information for relevance, and communicate via incremental and recursive cycles that take into account learning needs.
Our information intermediary model provide parameters for a theory of intermediary intervention to guide future examination of an important and understudied role; and conceptualise important theoretical relationships between information behaviour and social capital, and in particular, shared concepts of social integration, and the progressive and integrative human intermediary role within.
Evidence of dependent relationships between young mothers and support workers also raises important questions regarding longer term approaches to the development of independence in young mothers, and in particular, development of important health literacy life skills. An important future research and policy agenda is also established.