Sunderland partnership shares adoption practices on global platform

Sensory toy 'alien allies'

A Sunderland partnership celebrated for paving the way to a better future for looked after children is sharing its best practice at an international level for a second time.

The University of Sunderland and Together for Children (TfC), working on behalf of Sunderland City Council to deliver children’s services in the city, have been collaborating on a range of work to ensure young people in the care system, awaiting a permanent home, are given the best possible support to deal with their diverse needs - work which has received praise nationally.

As a result of the partnership, the University and TfC were invited to present at the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH) conference that took place in Malta in 2017 and again this April.

The initiative's aim is to ensure young people in the care system, awaiting a permanent home, and those in special education provision at Priory Hurworth House School are given the best possible support to deal with their diverse needs.

Stephanie Hunter, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sunderland, Carole Young, Senior Adoption Worker at Together for Children and Sharon Pearson, Operations Director for Priory Education and Children’s Services discussed a paper focusing on helping children with complex needs make successful transitions in their childhoods.

The partners presented a paper that focused upon helping children with complex needs make successful transitions in their childhoods. The emphasis was on innovative practice that has been developed to improve transitions for children with complex neurological conditions and/or adopted or children in care.

The development of the initiative focused on adopted and looked after children, some of whom had autism and other conditions.  Children with complex neurological conditions, face additional challenges which impacts upon them in terms of preparing for and making transitions.

The partnership’s working group developed transitional objects, in the form of sensory toys that the children call “Alien Allies”. These help children to explain their emotional state and how it’s possible to feel alien when you experience lots of changes.

Steph has been working with the local crafting community who have developed patterns and have been working successfully to knit the transitional toys.

Attendees at the conference included therapists, psychologists, academics, social workers and those who have a professional and personal interest in the topics. There was also an opportunity for Maltese social work staff to engage and discuss their practice in this area.

ACAMH is keen to improve the standard of Malta’s children’s mental health services and reduce the number of looked after children who receive in-patient mental health care.

Stephanie said: “We again met motivated staff who manage children’s homes, plus healthcare practitioners. We also further developed a knowledge transfer partnership with the Maltese professionals. I was impressed by the warmth of the relationships with children described by staff.” 

Carole Young, Senior Adoption Worker at TfC, said: “The opportunity to review practice at an international level has been inspirational. I am confident that learning will come from the knowledge transfer that will benefit children and young people in Sunderland.”

Dr Nigel Camilleri, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, founder and chair of the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Malta branch, said they wished to raise the standard of provision of care through evidence-based practice and improve collaborative care.

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