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2018 Conference – Alan Burnell’s blog

Many good things came out of the conference ‘Assessing and Treating Developmentally Traumatised Children’ we held in October. Colwyn Trevarthen, our keynote speaker, reminded us all how important the first few weeks and months of a baby’s life are. What really struck home to me was his point that babies from the outset are intentional. They want to relate, they need to relate and they have a way of relating in-built that is musical in nature.

Beautiful though the imagery and ideas presented were, I could not help but be drawn back to how babies and infants are impacted through poor parenting. Some of the signals that babies emit are so subtle that even ‘good enough’ parents can at times miss them but hopefully they do repair. However, for abused and neglected children, all they can do is withdraw.

From Colwyn Trevarthen’s presentation       


Our research in 2016 showed positive outcomes for developmentally traumatised children in our treatment programme. We followed this up in 2017/18 by looking at a control group of children who had had the same assessment process used as for the treatment group, but they did not receive follow up funding for treatment at Family Futures.

Conference presentation 2: The latest findings for Neuro-Physiological Psychotherapy: a comparison of outcomes for treatment vs non-treatment groups



These pie charts speak for themselves. They paint a depressing picture of what happened to the children who had our assessment but didn’t receive our NPP treatment programme. This is the control group we felt was needed to validate our earlier research. To us it provides overwhelming and compelling evidence that unless families and their adopted children who have complex needs receive effective therapeutic help from a multidisciplinary service, the financial and human costs are huge.

Failure to support adopters and their children invalidates adoption as an option. For the contemporary cohort of children needing adoptive families, it isn’t adoption alone that saves the day, it is adoption plus specialist therapeutic services. This is what makes adoption the effective option for children. Adoption in the past has, in and of itself, been seen as a panacea for neglectful and abusive biological family failure. We now know, and this research provides evidence, that it isn’t.

An afternoon workshop at the conference: The implications for family placement services of Developmental and Complex Trauma

The afternoon workshops provided an opportunity for the staff of Family Futures to show how a neuro-sequential NPP approach (Neuro-Physiological Psychotherapy) can and should be integrated into every stage of the adoption process, from assessment of adopters to post-placement support, and from educational attainment to resolution of adolescent identity conflicts. We are planning to hold another conference in two years’ time which will focus on how new research and innovative practice can be used to enhance adoption practice for the future.

Many participants asked if we could offer more training on how they can integrate a neuro-sequential NPP approach into their everyday practice. We have taken this point to heart and have now devised a training course for social workers, therapists and psychologists who want to do this. We will be offering this in the new year and you can find out more about the course on our training pageWe believe it is possible, not for an individual to offer a multi-disciplinary team approach of course, but to use a neuro-sequential NPP framework to inform their assessments and the way that they deliver their treatment interventions.

There was a great deal of support from conference delegates for integrating a neuro-sequential NPP approach into a multi-disciplinary team approach for assessing, approving and supporting foster carers and adoptive parents. We believe this is the model for the 21st century. We realise we need to be speaking not just to practitioners, who intuitively get the message based on their own clinical and practice experience, but also, crucially, to senior managers and policy-makers. It is they who could embrace regionalisation as an opportunity for significant change in the service delivery, so that like a phoenix rising from the flames, out of regionalisation and the current confusion, a more effective and integrated approach could emerge.

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