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 the University of Sunderland’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.