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Research Case studies

Impact of Playwork

Professor Fraser Brown

Children & Young People, Institute for Health & Wellbeing

Professor Fraser Brown has spoken throughout the UK and around the world about his research into the effects of therapeutic playwork on a group of abandoned children in Romania. Fraser is the Chair and Co-Founder of the Aid for Romanian Children charitable trust, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Romanian Association of Play Therapy and Drama Therapy.

Fraser has built up substantial research and practical knowledge of Playwork and the value of this approach for children’s development. Although his focus has been predominantly on the Playwork profession, his work is also of interest to those working in early years, childhood, children’s health and wellbeing and children’s social care.

Play is absolutely essential to positive development and has implications right into adulthood. Professor Brown undertook a study examining the impact of a playwork project on a group of chronically abused, abandoned children living in a Romanian paediatric hospital. These children had spent most of their lives tied in the same cot in the same hospital ward, were poorly fed and their nappies rarely changed.

Fraser focused on the children's developmental progression, assessed using an instrument originally developed for his PhD. During ten months when nothing changed in their lives, other than their introduction to the project, the children changed dramatically. Social interaction became more complex, physical activity showed a distinct move from gross to fine motor skills. Their understanding of the world around them improved, and they began to play in highly creative ways, no longer rocking, and staring vacantly into space, they became fully engaged active human beings.

The care elements could not be separated from the therapeutic play elements of the project because of resource and ethical considerations, and so it was not possible to say that playwork was the sole cause of the changes. Nevertheless it was possible to draw a strong conclusion – namely that the children’s developmental progress was clearly identifiable, and, apparently, made possible through their experience of the project. The study raises many questions about the ‘ages and stages’ view of child development, and invites further exploration about the power of play as a therapeutic tool.

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