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The Impact of Child Abuse and Neglect on Children’s Capacity to Learn

Over 10 years ago, children placed in permanent placements were recognised as having attachment difficulties. Since then, advances in neuroscientific research have shown that early childhood trauma can disrupt every area of a child’s development and lead to serious behavioural difficulties.

Although this trauma is caused by the failure of the primary attachment relationship, whether as a consequence of abuse, neglect or emotional unavailability, the impact can be pervasive and multi-faceted. Multiple and/or chronic adverse traumatic events in childhood change the brain’s structure and function, affecting more than just the child’s ability to form a secure attachment bond.

Abused and neglected children struggle with peer relationships and learning in the classroom. In order to help this group of children learn and keep regulated, an understanding of how abuse and neglect impact child development is required.

Emotional regulation, mood, sensory processing, learning, physical health and social functioning can also be affected. This constellation of difficulties has become known as Developmental Trauma. (Bessel Van der Kolk, 2005)

Psychiatrists Bruce Perry and Bessel Van der Kolk have identified developmental trauma as a huge issue for children in the public care system. They advocate for a neurosequential approach to treatment, which involves matching the nature and timing of specific therapeutic and clinical techniques to different developmental stages of the brain. This evidence underpins the work of Family Futures’ therapy team and how we support placements.


Additional information


Self-funding Parent/Carer, Standard Professional, Associate Professional

Course objectives

This one-day course provides professionals with an understanding of how early childhood trauma can impact development and lead to behavioural issues and other difficulties. As well as providing the theory behind developmental trauma, the course offers strategies and interventions to support children in their learning.

What skills will you take away?

  • An understanding of the evidence supporting developmental trauma
  • Practical ideas for assessing children’s needs and strengths
  • Interventions to support adopted children in the classroom
  • Pointers to evidence for accessing extra support for the child

Who should attend?

Teachers, Designated teachers, Headteachers, SENCOs, Teaching Assistants.


Eugene Ellis, Integrative Arts Psychotherapist, Family Futures

Eugene has a Neuro– Developmental approach when working with children who have been traumatised and have insecure attachments and offers support to carers and professionals with responsibility for looked after children.

Eugene has trained using art, drama, puppets, etc. to facilitate children’s communication and also in Theraplay, Somatic Experience and working with couples. He is currently training under the supervision of Dan Hughes to become a Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy Certified Therapist.

Mandy Ruddock – Occupational Therapist, Family Futures

Mandy has been an occupational therapist for thirty years working with a broad range of client groups, for example, ranging from adults in acute mental health services in the NHS, to working with people of all ages with a physical disability in social services.  She joined Family Futures as the paediatric occupational therapist in 2011, and focuses particularly on the sensory needs that impact the participation in everyday life of adopted and fostered children and their families. She qualified as a Sensory Integration Practitioner in 2015 through the Sensory Integration Network UK.


Family Futures CIC
3 & 4 Floral Place
7 - 9 Northampton Grove
London N1 2PL

Course times: 10am - 4pm


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