“Aliens” support children through trauma

Meet the Alien Allies

Published on 16 October 2018

A North East conference exploring the latest thinking around adoption and support for looked after children will this year unveil a group of special toys being introduced to help children cope with huge challenges in their lives.

‘Alien Allies’ are a transitional toy, designed by Ellie Skene and crafted by the Knit 1 Crochet Too crocheting group. The purpose of the ‘Aliens’ is to give children who struggle with change to have someone by their side, a friend to help with the transitions they face in everyday life. This is particularly important for those children who have faced trauma or abuse, or with special needs such as autism who may feel different and lonely

The ‘Aliens’ will be introduced by Sharon Pearson, Operations Director at Priory Education and Children’s Services, during our University’s annual one-day conference on October 19th, which coincides with National Adoption Week (Oct 15-21). The conference offers delegates the opportunity to hear from leading UK experts present their most recent research and developments. 

The theme at this year’s event is ‘The Impact of Trauma on Children’ and will be delivered in partnership with the Institute of Recovery from Childhood Trauma (IRCT) whose chair, Sylvia Duncan, Clinical Psychologist, will be a guest speaker. As a national charity the IRCT is keen to build a learning community of professionals who work with children across the country and to this end convenes regional events in partnership with universities to help develop best practice which can be sustained. 

Conference organiser Stephanie Hunter, a senior lecturer in Childhood Studies in the University’s School of Social Sciences and an IRCT Trustee says: “This will be the third conference we have hosted and its success is based on the incredibly strong partnerships we have with professionals across the UK. We are privileged this year that not only is IRCT partnering us to put on this event but is also offering free membership for one year to delegates who are not members, which really does give added value for those attending.”

“We are also delighted to be able to introduce ‘Alien Allies’ to our conference, which fits in perfectly with our theme of transition and loss.”

She added: “If you’ve experienced abuse and trauma it’s difficult to cope with transitions because it resonates with loss, so the little ‘Alien Allies’ are a tool for children to use as a transitional object, identifying those ‘alien feelings’ and providing comfort. The Priory Education Centre in Darlington has begun to give out the first batch to its adopted children”.

One looked-after student who was placed in the care system from a young age and described that time in her life as ‘very dark and disheartening’ says: “Although I was comforted to the best that I could have been with the necessary items that was needed at that time, it would have made a great difference to me if I was given this small gift.

“The gift would definitely ensure a child feels appreciated and comforted at their most vulnerable time in their life, and more so, the gift would give hope for that single child.”

Lindsey Cookson, Principal Lecturer and Team Leader for Childhood Studies at Sunderland University says: “This conference is a fabulous example of exciting and innovative external engagement activities going on in the Faculty of Education and Society that support children, families and professionals in our local communities. Conferences like this one also enhance the learning experiences of our students who are able to hear from speakers at the forefront of initiatives bringing positive changes to children’s lives.”

The conference is open to adopters, foster carers, professionals, staff and students and will take place on October 19, in partnership with IRCT and regional and national adoption agencies at the Prospect Building, Room 009, 9.30am-4.30pm, Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St Peter’s.

Tickets cost £40 for IRCT members and £60 for non members. To book click here

Non members who would like to join free for one year can provide  their details at the conference

You can also access the invitation by going onto the IRCT website www.irct.org.uk and click on Best Practice Forums, which takes you to the Eventbrite invitation.

Notes to Editors

Conference speakers include:

Sylvia Duncan, Clinical Psychologist, Family Therapist and Chair of IRCT Trustee Board

Developmental Perspective on the Impact of Trauma

Sylvia is a Clinical Psychologist and Family Therapist who has dedicated her professional life to working with traumatised children and adults. She has researched and published widely in the field of child abuse and neglect and provided therapeutic services for children and families in

recovery. She now offers consultation and training to other professionals working with abused, neglected and traumatised children.

Colin Maginn, Director of ‘The Pillars of Parenting’

Emotional Warmth model of care

Colin’s whole professional life has involved working with children in public care. He was a manager in two regional children’s secure units before he set up ‘Ingleside Children’s Homes’ in London, which he owned for 20 years. During this time, he worked closely with psychologist Dr Sean Cameron and together they developed the

‘Emotional Warmth Model of professional childcare’, an evidence-based practice model which is one of a very few approaches in the world

with peer-reviewed research data confirming significant improvements with the young people, across more than 12 measures.

Colin is driven to improve work with children in public care, to inspire kindness and warmth, to change from haphazard opinion based practice to child-friendly evidenced-based practice based on psychological research and theory which empowers those working directly with the young person.

Wendy Sparling, Operational Manager, Priory Education 

Sharon Pearson, Operations Director, Priory Education and Children’s Services

Positive transition into residential setting from a climate of loss and trauma

Wendy has worked with children with Special Educational Needs in various establishments for the past 25 years. Wendy began working as a teacher specialising in pupils with severe learning difficulties, Autism and other complex conditions. Wendy became Principal of a large Independent residential and school provision specialising in pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties. During this time Wendy continued with her studies, gaining her National Professional Qualification for Headship.

For the past seven years Wendy has worked for the Priory Group, initially developing a specialist Autism Provision which now educates 40 pupils with complex presentations of Autism from a UK wide catchment area. More recently Wendy has been employed as an Operations Director within Priory Education and Children’s services responsible for two specialist schools, six children’s homes and a Further Education facility with residential accommodation.

Sharon has worked with vulnerable adults and children, working with the homeless, ex-offenders, refugees, children leaving care and women seeking refuge. Sharon worked in this field for eight years and established the first housing partnership with the Public Protection Unit. Sharon qualified as a Social Worker and headed up an outstanding resettlement service. Sharon also had the privilege of working across the whole of the secure estate for three years on behalf of the Youth Justice Board in England and Wales.

Sharon was asked to head up a Local Authority Secure Children’s Home, with the aim of improving outcomes and quality. After having achieved the goals she set herself in the Secure Children’s Home, Sharon moved into the Priory Group. Sharon is currently an Operations Director within Priory Education and Children’s Services division, responsible for 4 schools and a Residential Children’s home, all rated Good by Ofsted.

Kathryn McCabe, Adoption Manager & Stephanie Hunter, Senior Lecture

Change and Loss

Kathryn has been a qualified Social Worker for 16 years, and has spent the last three years managing the adoption team within Sunderland which now has its own therapists within the team, specialising in Theraplay.

The team has excellent outcomes within the family finding element of the work they undertake and this is part is influenced by ability to therapeutically support the children and families who they work with. 

Stephanie Hunter qualified as a social worker in 1997. She has worked in Children’s Services, CAFCASS and CAMHS (children’s mental health service) before beginning an academic career. For 10 years from 2002 she set up and managed a CAMHS service for looked after children, which won three national awards and accolades.

At the University of Sunderland Stephanie teaches Law and modules related to her specialist research and clinical interests in Childhood Studies including attachment and promoting recovery in trauma.

Anyone interested in the Childhood Studies programme at Sunderland University can contact stephanie.hunter@sunderland.ac.uk