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New training programme to prioritise children’s mental health in the early years in response to the pandemic

7th September 2021  |  By: Michelle Cunliffe


The Anna Freud Centre is awarded a Department for Education (DfE) contract to develop an online professional development training for early years workers to support their knowledge and skills of Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED) in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic.



This new initiative is part of DfE’s Early Years Professional Development Programme (PDP), which aims to train early years staff and narrow the attainment gap in infant and preschool aged children. This week, the DfE announced a £10 million extension to the programme, which will provide high quality training and professional development support for staff in nurseries and preschools, as well as childminders.

The Anna Freud Centre is leading on the development of the personal, social and emotional training, which will involve a 5-module training programme, which sets out to provide knowledge and skills to early years practitioners involved in childcare on how to best support children aged two to four years old. Module content will include information on how the pandemic has impacted child development alongside practical skills in helping children manage their difficult experiences of trauma and loss. The training also aims to support early years workers to collaborate with parents and carers to support their understanding of the importance of personal and social development in their preschool aged children. Lastly, the training will also cover early years staff wellbeing and how settings can support practitioners in maintaining their own mental health in the workplace.

Dr Camilla Rosan, Head of Early Years and Prevention at the Anna Freud Centre, said: “We are delighted to be leading on the development of this much needed evidence-based training for early years practitioners. During the pandemic, we conducted research with over 2000 childcare workers into the impact of the restrictions on children’s development, the difficulties children were presenting with in a childcare setting, and how staff wellbeing was impacted. This funding means we can disseminate our findings across England, along with early years best practice, via this new training programme”.

The Anna Freud Centre will be partnering with the National Day Nurseries Association, who have a membership of over 6,500 early education settings ranging from private nurseries to maintained and school nursery settings, and access to over 60,000 practitioner contacts. This will ensure the training is informed by practitioners in early years settings.

As part of the training development, the Centre will also draw on the work of Early Years in Mind – a free digital learning network for early years practitioners, which provides accessible and informative guidance and training on how best to support the personal, social, emotional development of children under five in early years settings.

Earlier this year, the Anna Freud Centre published findings from a survey of over 900 UK nursery staff in the report, ‘Their challenges are our challenges’, which included that 42% of staff said they had noticed signs that children in their care had their emotional wellbeing affected by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

Other findings published by the Centre in 2021, based on a survey of just under 1,500 nursery staff, found that the pandemic had also taken its toll on nursery staff’s mental health, with 50% reporting that they felt unwell as a result of work-related stress during the past year and 66% reporting that the pandemic had impacted their wellbeing and mental health. This led to the development of a free resource with a range of practical tips and ideas on how to champion staff wellbeing, along with an activity checklist designed to enable settings to implement permanent changes and monitor their progress.

We will be providing more information on the training soon. In the meantime, you can join our Early Years in Mind Network here.

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