Giving Children Hope: The Value of Therapeutic Play

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This presentation summarises the findings from a small scale observational study of the impact of a therapeutic playwork project on a group of children in a Romanian paediatric hospital. The children were abandoned at birth, and subsequently spent most of their time tied in a cot, with little positive input into their lives.

Although a playworker started working with the children, nothing else changed for them. They still spent the rest of their day tied in the same cots, having little interaction with anyone else. They were not bathed, their nappies were left unchanged for long periods, and they were not fed properly.

During the first year of the project we used a combination of research methods to identify developmental changes in the children: i.e. diaries, systematic & participant observation, and our own play development assessment tool.

In some cases, the changes were dramatic, providing strong evidence of the power of play as a therapeutic and developmental agent. The evidence shows a speed of ‘recovery’ that was quite unexpected, and casts doubt on the ‘ages and stages’ view of play development, as seen in the work of Piaget, Parten, Sheridan, etc.

The presentation will be supported by ‘before and after’ video footage (which some people may find disturbing).

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Dr. Fraser Brown is the first Professor of Playwork in the UK. He is the programme leader for the BA (Hons) Playwork degree at Leeds Beckett University, and the specialist link tutor for the postgraduate play therapy courses run by the Academy of Play and Child Psychotherapy. He has presented at conferences across the UK and around the world, and has produced several key texts in the field of play and playwork. He is the Chair and Co-Founder of the Aid for Romanian Children charitable trust, and a member of the Executive Board of the Association for the Study of Play (TASP).

He is well-known for his research into the therapeutic effects of playwork on a group of abandoned children in a Romanian paediatric hospital. His wide-ranging research interests include the impact of deprivation on children's play behaviour, the assessment of play value in children's play spaces, and the role of play in the Montessori system of education.

After studying Politics at the University of Leeds, he spent three years as a playworker on an adventure playground in Runcorn. He then managed a range of projects for the North West Play Association. For two years he was District Leisure Officer in Middlesbrough and subsequently held posts with the National Playing Fields Association and Playboard. Before joining Leeds Beckett University, he was Director of the playwork training agency Children First for ten years.

His publications include Aspects of Playwork (2017); Play and Playwork: 101 Stories of Children Playing (2014); Rethinking Children’s Play (2013); Foundations of Playwork (2008); The Venture: a Case Study of an Adventure Playground (2007); Children Without Play (2005); Playwork: Theory and Practice (2003); School Playgrounds (1990); and Working Together: a Playwork Training Pack (1989). He was also a contributor to Medical Play Therapy and Child Life (2017); Handbook of the Study of Play (2015); Complex Trauma and Its Effects (2012); Perspectives on Play (2009); and Childhood: Services and Provision for Children (2007).

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