A Sunderland partnership celebrated for paving the way to a better future for looked after children is sharing its best practice at an international level for a second time.

The University of Sunderland, Together for Children (TfC) working on behalf of Sunderland City Council to deliver children’s services in the city, and Priory Education and Children’s Services have been collaborating on a range of work to ensure young people in the care system, awaiting a permanent home, and those in special education provision at Priory Hurworth House School are given the best possible support to deal with their diverse needs – work which has received praise nationally.

As a result of the partnership, the University, TfC and Priory Education and Children’s Services were invited to present at the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH) conference that took place in Malta in 2017 and again this April.

Steph Hunter, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sunderland, Carole Young, Senior Adoption Worker at TfC, who is a specialist in therapeutic intervention for children in foster care and children who are adopted / placed for adoption, and Sharon Pearson; Operations Director for Priory Education and Children’s Services are jointly presenting at the conference.

The partners presented a paper that focused on helping children with complex needs make successful transitions in their childhoods. The emphasis was on innovative practice that has been developed to improve transitions for children with complex neurological conditions and/or adopted or children in care or special needs education provision.

The development of the initiative focused on adopted and looked after children, some of whom had autism and other conditions.  Children with complex neurological conditions, face additional challenges which impacts upon them in terms of preparing for and making transitions.

The partnership’s working group developed transitional objects, in the form of sensory toys that the children call “Alien Allies”. These help children to explain their emotional state and how it’s possible to feel alien when you experience lots of changes.

Stephanie has been working with the local crafting community who have developed patterns and have been working successfully to knit the transitional toys.

Attendees at the conference included therapists, psychologists, academics, social workers and those who have a professional and personal interest in the topics. There was also an opportunity for Maltese social work staff to engage and discuss their practice in this area.

ACAMH is keen to improve the standard of Malta’s children’s mental health services and reduce the number of looked after children who receive in-patient mental health care.

Stephanie said: “We again met motivated staff who manage children’s homes, plus healthcare practitioners. We also further developed a knowledge transfer partnership with the Maltese professionals. I was impressed by the warmth of the relationships with children described by staff.”

Carole Young, Senior Adoption Worker at TfC, said: “The opportunity to review practice at an international level has been inspirational. I am confident that learning will come from the knowledge transfer that will benefit children and young people in Sunderland.”

Sharon Pearson, Operations Director at Priory Education and Children’s Services, said: “This initiative has had such a positive impact for some of our children in the school, one young person has spoken on the radio about this and his parents were thrilled with his response.  The ability to share these experiences and learn from others at an international level is a great opportunity.”

Dr Nigel Camilleri, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, founder and chair of the ACAMH Malta branch, said: “We have a number of well-meaning professionals working within social services and mental health services, however, there are two main areas which we believe needs improvement; the first is raising the standard of provision of care through evidence-based practice. The other area is improving collaborative care and improving communications between professionals and services, one way of achieving this is by increasing staff number, reducing caseloads, and giving time to professionals to adequately discuss the cases of young people.”

For more information on the University of Sunderland’s social care provision please visit.

Anyone wishing to find out more about Together for Children should visit


Anyone wishing to find out more about Priory Education and Children’s Services should visit:   https://www.priorychildrensservices.co.uk/

   Together for Children was formally established on 1st April 2017.

   The company works in partnership with Sunderland City Council and the Department for Education to give Sunderland’s children and young people the best possible life chances.

   Together for Children delivers a range of services for children and their families, including Early Help, Social Care and Education.

   Together for Children has an independent board of directors, who set the direction of the company and hold the management team to account.

   The company’s main priorities are to:

o    improve the lives of children and their families

o    keep children safe from harm

o    ensure they have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.