The Anna Freud Centre is an organisation with a rich history of caring for young minds.  Anna Freud was one of the founders of child psychoanalysis and her work has profoundly influenced thinking on child development.  Anna Freud’s tradition of innovation is embedded in the ethos of the Centre she founded, and to this day it remains both a leading authority on the emotional well-being of children, and a provider of pioneering treatment for children and young people in distress.    



In 1941, in response to the social upheaval and emotional distress faced by the children of war time Europe, Anna Freud established the Hampstead War Nurseries, a refuge for approximately 100 children made homeless by the bombing. The War Nurseries provided residences for children who were considered "billeting problems" because they could not be evacuated without their mothers or had developed difficulties in foster care situations. Anna Freud worked with these children and applied her knowledge of child development Historyto the children's care. For example, in contrast to the typical residential nursery practice at that time, parents were involved as much as possible. 'Family' groups were organised so that children received consistent care rather than being looked after by whichever member of staff happened to be on duty.

The Nurseries also provided a unique opportunity for observational research into child development and study of the impact of the war on children. This research aimed to foster better understanding of each individual child's needs.

The Hampstead Child Therapy Course began in 1947 and The Hampstead Clinic opened at 12 Maresfield Gardens in 1952 when the Centre was granted charity status and became known as the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic (the name was changed in honour of Anna Freud after her death in 1982). Anna Freud established the Therapy Course and Clinic with four principles in mind. Firstly, she wanted therapy to be available for children in need, regardless of their family's ability to pay. Secondly, she wanted to create a training course specifically for therapeutic work with children rather than child therapy training being only an addendum to adult therapy training. Thirdly, she wanted to apply psychoanalytic knowledge and skill to fields such as education and social and legal reform. Fourthly, Anna Freud was devoted to enquiry, which was always based on careful and detailed observation: research was an integral part of the Centre's work from the beginning.  While the Centre today has expanded its focus and utilises a wider range of clinical approaches, it remains dedicated to the principles of innovative research, effective practice and world class training.

HistoryThe first 30 years

The Clinic grew rapidly. Up to 60 children and adolescents were in intensive treatment at any one time. Students came to train from home and abroad and the Clinic became a centre of scholarship with a steady supply of academic visitors and post-doctoral researchers and a large output of published papers. In 1957, a small nursery school was opened where pre-school education based on a sound knowledge of child development was provided and students could observe developing children. Mother-toddler groups and a well-baby clinic were also started.History

The Clinic was funded largely by grants to support research and scholarship. Anna Freud was an articulate, charismatic and effective fundraiser and found much support for her work, especially in the USA . Detailed records were kept of all children seen in the clinic and research groups formed which would meet over a period of time. These groups published papers on a variety of topics, such as child development; adoption; the developmental impact of physical handicap (including blindness) and chronic illness; the assessment of pathology; psychoanalytic concepts and technique.  

Anna Freud remained involved until her death in 1982 (when the Clinic name was changed in honour of her) but from 1978 directors were appointed.  Peter Fonagy was Director of Research at AFC from 1989-2003 and published a number of important research papers with colleagues including a retrospective outcome study of all the cases (763) treated at the Centre over 40 years. 

The Centre todayThe Centre today

In 2003 a Directorial Team was appointed to run the Centre: Professor Linda Mayes (Chair of the Centre’s Directorial Team and Arnold Gesell Professor at the Yale Child Study Center), Professor Peter Fonagy (the Centre’s Chief Executive and Head of the Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at UCL) and Professor Mary Target (the Centre’s Professional Director and Professor of Psychoanalysis at UCL).  Under the team’s leadership, the Centre’s traditional child psychotherapy focus has broadened substantially with the purpose of identifying the most effective ways of helping children, young people and families in distress. 

Support Us
Commission us
CAMHS Evidence Based Practice Unit