Mental health training for foster carers (Close up training)

The Transfer of Care at 17 (TC17) research project (CLAHRC Cambridgeshire & Peterborough in collaboration with Cambridgeshire County Council Children’s services) identified a toxic cycle wherein mental health problems fed placement breakdown which, in turn, exacerbated mental health problems. (More information on TC17).  The project looked at two groups of potentially vulnerable 17 year olds:

  • young people leaving local authority care
  • young people leaving NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

Findings suggested that transitions may be compromised by poor mental health, particularly in young people leaving foster care. A survey of foster carers in the East of England suggested that foster carers would like more training, improved support and improved access to psychological services for the young people in their care with the greatest need. As a result, CLAHRC CP researchers and colleagues devised a training course (called Close Up) to help foster carers identify, monitor and record core symptoms of emotional distress in young people entering foster care for the first time. The hypothesis is that early identification of mental health problems with timely and appropriate interventions will prevent the serious escalation of problems for young people at risk.

CLAHRC researchers and colleagues worked with young people in care to produce two short animated films to use as a training resource. The first of these films, My Name is Joe is about going into foster care, and the second, Finding my Way, about leaving foster care, won an award for Best Documentary at the 7th British Film Institute (BFI) Future Film Festival (read more). More information about engaging children through animation can be found on the CLAHRC CP website.

Following on from this, senior researcher and project lead, Valerie Dunn developed a grant application for further funding to take this work forward.

Shared Training and Assessment for Well-Being (STrAWB) is a 12-month pilot project which aims to improve the early identification of potential mental health difficulties in children in care. STrAWB builds on the CloseUp programme, co-designed in 2013-15 by CLAHRC Cambridge and Peterborough researchers in collaboration with foster carers, social workers, CAMHS clinicians and young people in care. STrAWB involves integrated mental health and wellbeing training for foster carers and designated teachers who completed home- or school-based child assessments based on observations of key signs and indicators of potential mental health difficulties (foster carers) and social and emotional functioning (designated teachers).

The Rees Centre, Oxford and the University of Sussex are running this 12-month pilot project. Twenty-five primary school children in care will be recruited from three UK local authorities; foster carers and designated teachers will receive joint training and each will complete a child assessment at school or home. Children will complete measures at school. Feedback will be provided on individual children’s needs. Any resulting support strategies will be monitored. The project opens the door to valuable long-term follow-up work that can build new knowledge about the longitudinal trajectories of mental health characteristics in this vulnerable group, as well as the most effective intervention/support approaches.

Impact potential

  • This pilot project tests an innovative and potentially transformational approach to supporting the mental health and well-being of children in state care
  • The strong element of co-production should result in a package which is relevant and deliverable in routine social care settings
  • STrAWB should improve integrated working between home and school
  • Individual profiles of need should facilitate timely, targeted support for each child
  • This pilot should inform a larger study of which the funding proposal is underway
  • The Department of Education (DfE) has been supportive


Useful links

View My Name is Joe here

View My Name is Joe: Behind the Scenes here

View Finding my Way here 

View Finding my Way: Behind the Scenes here

For further information on this project, contact Valerie Dunn at 

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