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European Semester of Psychology 2018

Improving the mental health of children in care

14 March 2018 | by European Semester of Psychology 2018

The following article has been provided by child psychologist Niels Peter Rygaard, a corresponding member of the EFPA Board of Prevention and Promotion and co-founder of The Fairstart Foundation.

The existence of millions of uprooted, displaced and abandoned children calls for psychologists to develop large-scale education and care training solutions, which is why since 2005 I've been working to transform research in high risk infants and children without parental care and to encourage and expand the use of blended learning (local seminars combined with online training) designed to help groups of caregivers, as well as staff in group homes, orphanages, and refugee camps, to understand the theory and exercise practices of attachment-based care.

This initiative has so far enabled our profession to reach and educate thousands of carers (both formal and informal), government workers, and NGOs, in a way which is low in cost, high in quality, and purpose-built to be easily accessible. And I would like to extend an invite here to my colleagues around the world to get involved and contribute to this global operation.

But first, a little background on what The Fairstart Foundation is, and its ongoing aims and activities.

In 2007 I gathered together the first members of an international network of researchers with the mission of creating a mutual flow between three groups – international researchers, organisations in charge of children and young people in care, and frontline caregivers.

It has long been demonstrated that the early quality of care provided to/experienced by children determines their aptitude for later learning and adult resilience, and my own research (undertaken over two years of extensive surveys and dialogues) has identified four overall factors which determine child mental health and outcomes for children without parental care:

  • long-term attachment to a few caregivers
  • long-term membership of a peer group
  • regular education and support for caregivers
  • absence of stakeholder conflicts over the child

The first training programmes designed to address these issues were put together between 2008 and 2012 in partnership with a number of EU countries, as part of two EU funded projects, and in 2012 The Fairstart Foundation was founded in response to soaring global demands.

Thus far 18 free online language versions have been implemented in 20 countries on all continents, in local language versions, each adjusted to culture, alongside a series of instructor education programmes whose purpose is to prepare local instructors for the rigours and requirements of local group training.

As things stand at the moment the caregivers of over 30.000 placed children and youth have received this training, and 400 students have attended the international online instructor education sessions, which has in turn led to the rise of local expert networks in a number of locations.

For information on a key example of our work, as well as a comparison of research in blended learning compared to other, more didactic, methods, click here to access a paper describing our work with the SOS Children’s Villages programme (currently being undertaken in six African countries).

The European, American and Danish Psychologist Associations have provided invaluable support for this project so far, and some of our other ongoing work includes an effect study (performed in partnership with the Danish National Institute of Social Research) aimed at developing a low-cost package for all Danish county administrations, as well as the implementation of Spanish versions of our instructor training programmes for Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Chile.

If you, or any of your colleagues, would be interested in contributing to our shared goal of providing low cost education and training to caregivers around the world, with the ultimate objective of improving the mental health and quality of life of children and young people, please contact Niels Peter Rygaard, MO EFPA Board of Prevention and Promotion at www.fairstartfoundation.com.


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