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Wednesday, 07 February 2018

Academic supports new charity to improve the lives of looked after children

Written by The Editorial Team

An academic at the University of Chester is working with a new national charity to improve the lives of looked after children.

Insights from evaluative research led by Professor Elizabeth Harlow from the Department of Social Work and Interprofessional Education, were harnessed by the University’s honorary graduate Sir John Timpson CBE, when he founded the Alex Timpson Trust in memory of his late wife.

Professor Harlow’s report on the Centre for Adoption Support for a regional partnership highlighted the challenges facing adoptive parents and especially the lack of teachers’ awareness of the emotional needs of adopted children and their families. This led Sir John to set up a national working group to explore this topic and Professor Harlow (pictured) was invited to participate.

The Timpson family established the Alex Timpson Trust with the primary aim of raising awareness of attachment theory and the needs of looked after and adopted children in schools. This was encouraged by the couple’s own experiences of fostering 90 children and adopting two. Professor Harlow was commissioned to act as a consultant for the Trust for one day a week and is also a trustee of the charity.

The first major focus is to explore how effectively attachment theory and its relevance to the classroom is being promoted nationally by Virtual School Head teachers and other charities.

The Trust has now provided £750,000 for the University of Oxford’s Rees Centre to evaluate these efforts and Professor Harlow is working closely with the Centre, the Trust and the University through her role on the steering group. Most importantly, through all of this work and the dynamism of Sir John, the message about attachment and how to care for looked after children in schools is resulting in positive change.

Professor Harlow, who is based at the University’s Warrington Campus, has published her work in international journals and spoken at conferences across the world. She qualified as a social worker in 1981, supporting children and families until she became a Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Bradford.

Professor Harlow said: “I’m thrilled to be involved in the Alex Timpson Trust and to bring an issue of such importance to the attention of school staff members.

“In 2015 NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines were published on attachment and the needs of adopted and looked after children. These guidelines encourage schools and education providers to educate staff members on attachment theory and to give thought to the ways in which the emotional needs of children are given attention.

“The Alex Timpson Trust aims to support the mission. Having spent the early part of my career as a social worker, I am aware of the complex biographies and emotional needs of looked after and adopted children. I admire enormously what Sir John is hoping to achieve in Alex’s memory.”

Sir John Timpson CBE, said: “Elizabeth is providing valuable professional support to what I regard as an enormously important project. Too many looked after children fail to get the support they need in school. As a result a disproportionate percentage of people affected by trauma and the lack of attachment in gathering early years are excluded from school, get low grades in exams, have difficulty securing a job and spend time in prison. We both believe this work can make a major difference to the lives of these young people.”