Centre helps traumatised children engage with learning

Home provides specialist support for severely neglected and traumatised children aged six to 12.

  • Close links with local schools to allow children to experience mainstream education.
  • More than 90 per cent go into foster care with three quarters attending mainstream school.


Appletree Treatment Centre provides specialist therapeutic care, therapy and education for some of the UK's most severely neglected and traumatised children.

The centre, based in Kendal, Cumbria, has been supporting young people to return to their families or foster care, and mainstream education, for more than 20 years.

With three residential homes for boys and girls aged from six to 12, the centre offers full time care and education for up to 25 children.

Principal Clair Davies says the centre will help a child to return to their family if that is the care plan, but the majority of children will be supported to go into foster care.

"Broadly speaking we are a primary school and we only work with children of that age range quite deliberately," she explains.

"We keep them in a primary school setting so they are away from the influence of teenagers and I think that's one of the reasons for our success.

"We never exclude any of our children either permanently or temporarily - there's no exclusion. So the message to the children is whatever challenging behaviour they want to show, we will be able to manage it."

Davies says the centre's staff place a great emphasis on the importance of education and achievement in their role as "professional parents".

"It instils in them quite high ambition so I have children here saying they want to be lawyers and teachers - that's really important to us," she says.

Often when the children arrive they have already been excluded from mainstream schools and are developmentally younger than they should be for their age.

"It's another reason why we don't want them around older children," explains Davies.

"So they may be eight or nine but they will have temper tantrums like a two-year-old," she adds.

The centre aims to replace the "early years experiences" that many of these children have missed out on by providing types of play, such as sand or water, in a welcoming environment.

"Initially the children will go into a classroom that looks more nursery-based and we find that very quickly once children feel safe and accepted we can start moving them on educationally," says Davies.

She says all of the children have special educational needs in terms of social and emotional mental health and many already have education, health and care (EHC) plans in place.

If a child arrives without an EHC plan, staff will work with the local authority to arrange for additional support to follow them when they eventually move on from the centre.

"They've missed a lot of schooling so they are behind and they are developmentally delayed because of trauma not because of learning difficulties. They blame themselves and feel extremely angry and sad but also rejected and confused," explains Davies.

She says the centre's strategic approach is "very much relationship focused" using experienced staff that make the children feel emotionally and physically safe.

"The heart of our success is the relationships the adults have with the children and the children have with each other," says Davies.

In addition, the children, many of whom may have suffered trauma from a pre-verbal age, attend regular therapy sessions using methods such as art, drama and music to help them to process their traumatic experiences.

The centre has a close working relationship with local schools which allows children to share activities, clubs and events as well as make new friends.

Arrangements with local schools allow children to "practice" being in mainstream education by spending time in bigger classrooms.

"The head teachers always comment on how well behaved and polite our children are," she says.


Of the children who arrive at Appletree, 94 per cent will leave to go to a foster family, and of those 75 per cent will go to a mainstream school.

Those children unable to reintegrate to mainstream education and have been diagnosed with additional learning difficulties will attend special day schools.

The centre is able to use its relationship with local schools to help it measure educational progress for the children.

"We do moderation together so their teachers will look at our children's work and mark it and then we'll see if we would mark it at the same level," explains Davies.

She says on average children at Appletree make one and a half year's progress in one academic year narrowing the gap with their mainstream peers during their time at the school.

Click here to read more in CYP Now's Residential Care special report

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