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The Health Visitors Association decided last week to ballot members on limited industrial action over the NHS pay offer.

Jacqui Stokes, 37, is a health visitor at Ordsall Health Centre, Salford.

Cherrill Hicks talked to her.

Training: Five years.

Experience: 13 years.

Hours: 37.5 weekly, flexible.

Salary: pounds l9,600 annually.

The job: "I work in a very disadvantaged inner-city community, with high unemployment, a high percentage of single mothers and high numbers of low- birthweight babies, so there are many families with special needs. There are three of us here, all GP attached, each with a caseload of about 200 families. Mostly we carry out home visits, although we're hoping to start drop-in health sessions once a week. Although our role is predominantly with mothers and children, we look at the health needs of the whole family.

A lot of what I do is advocacy work: ensuring clients have access to other services for help with benefits, health, debt problems, psychological counselling. I feel parenting is the most important job anyone will ever do and the one they get the least thanks for. A lot of the time parents feel they have lost control and we are looking at how to give them back a sense of control: having a structure, a routine gives a child more security than all the toys in the world. Sitting at the table eating a meal together, a regular bedtime, reading a story, or a picture book if mum can't read herself.

We are looking at how to empower people. For example, a client will ask you to write a letter to the housing department, which is the easiest thing in the world. It may take longer, but it's better to show them how to structure a letter, enabling them to do it themselves."

Pros: "We have more autonomy than nurses, so we do set up some interesting projects. It's good to make people aware of health issues, that they have a right to services."

Cons: "There is no career structure - I'll be a health visitor for ever unless I go into management. All of us at times miss nursing - you don't get the immediate rewards. In this area we have a lot of break-ins, so the centre has to have steel doors and barbed wire. You don't walk around dripping in gold or carrying a handbag."

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