Our Blog

We have partners in more than 30 countries – from Canada to China, Iceland to India. Like us, they’re all working to promote the mental health and emotional wellbeing of young children. Together we’ve got a wealth of experience and a variety of views.

Our Healthy Children blog is the place where we share new ideas and discuss what needs to be done to help young children to flourish. It’s a platform for partners, parents, teachers and children to talk about their experiences, and a chance for us all to learn from each other.

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Partnership for Children trainers have recently returned from Bulgaria, introducing Zippy’s Friends to future teacher trainers there.  One of the key principles of the programme is to emphasise the positive and give lots of encouragement and reinforcement when children come up with healthy strategies and solutions to problems.

‘This is going to be quite a change for our teachers,’ said Maria Tchomarova of Animus, our new Bulgarian partner NGO.  ‘In Bulgaria teachers typically criticise children and point out what they’re doing wrong.  Even if an answer is correct, they will say, “That’s right, but…”’ 

‘And as parents we do the same with our children at home,’ added her colleague, Nadia Kojuharova.

Bulgaria is by no means unique in this respect – we’ve heard similar comments before.  Teachers in many countries still use authoritarian and punitive teaching methods.  Children are not there to be listened to, but to be told what to do.

But we know from experience that Zippy’s Friends can have very positive effects on teachers as well as on children.  In a survey of Zippy teachers in six countries, 89% said that teaching the programme had made them better teachers. 

One young teacher in Mauritius told us that he had completely changed his teaching style since starting to teach Zippy’s Friends, and that his job, which had been a chore, was now something he enjoyed.  

A Lithuanian teacher commented, ‘This programme is so useful in my work.  If I could, I would turn the clock back to know it earlier.’  

In China a head teacher told us, ‘One teacher in our kindergarten has changed a lot since she implemented the curriculum Zippy's Friends.  Now she is more willing to share her feelings and thoughts with us.  She is able to consider other colleagues’ feelings.  I found it is easier to communicate with her.’ 

An older Zippy teacher in Brazil told a teachers’ conference that she had been due to retire that year, but her family had told her, ‘You can’t retire now – this programme is having such a good effect on you!’

Even in countries where it’s more usual for teachers to have a facilitative teaching style, teacher training courses rarely cover children’s social and emotional wellbeing, or what teachers can do to promote children’s mental health.  The emphasis is more often on attaining targets and completing the required paper work. 

Teaching Zippy’s Friends can be quite an eye opener, with many teachers expressing surprise when they see how eager children are to talk about their feelings and how many ideas they can generate for coping with difficulties.  Over time these teachers will move on to new classes in new schools and perhaps teach children of different ages, but they will take this new realisation and understanding with them, so furthering the programme’s impact.

It will be fascinating to see what impact Zippy’s Friends has on teachers in Bulgaria.


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Zippy’s Friends helps young children to develop coping and social skills.  But what about its impact on teachers?


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Six charities have highlighted the importance of treating mental illness as early as possible.  They’re right.  But promoting mental health is even more cost effective.

However you look at it, promoting the mental health and resilience of young children makes sense.  It helps children to cope with difficulties, gives them skills for life, improves the atmosphere in schools, boosts academic achievement, reduces bullying and makes parenting easier.

Yet when times are tough such obvious human benefits may not be enough.  National and local governments want to see economic benefits too.  When budgets are being cut right, left and centre, why should mental health promotion be spared?

This issue has been in the news recently in England.  First came a report saying that problems resulting from poor mental health are costing the city of London a staggering £26 billion a year, mainly in care costs and lost productivity. 

One of the report’s authors, Prof Martin Knapp of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), was quoted as saying: “This is far too high a price to the city, and much of it is because we are not addressing individual and social needs properly.  The costs will continue to rise if we do nothing.”

Then six leading mental health charities warned against cutting early intervention schemes to help young patients with mental illness.  It’s a false economy, they said. 

The Mental Health Foundation, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network and the Centre for Mental Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists emphasised that early intervention schemes can prevent patients from becoming more ill, keep them out of hospital and in work, and reduce suicide rates. 

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said such programmes were very good value for money.

"They save the National Health Service £9 and the wider economy another £9 for every £1 invested in them," he said.

Such figures are striking – but they tell only half the story. 

Three years ago, Prof Knapp and LSE colleagues produced a report for the Department of Health, looking this time not at the costs of mental illness but at the economic benefits of promoting mental health.

They examined 15 evidence-based interventions for promoting mental health and preventing mental illness, and concluded that ‘even though the economic modelling is based on conservative assumptions, many interventions are seen to be outstandingly good value for money.’

What really impressed us at Partnership for Children was that by far the most cost-effective of the 15 interventions studied were social and emotional learning programmes for children, with a return on investment of £84 for each £1 spent.

Look more closely and the findings are even more encouraging.  The report assumed that an intervention happens at the age of ten, whereas our Zippy’s Friends programme helps children as young as five and six.  The report assumed an intervention cost per child of £132 per year, but in many countries the cost of delivering Zippy’s Friends is much, much lower.

The report’s conclusion was unequivocal: ‘There is a strong case that school-based social and emotional learning programmes are cost-saving for the public sector.’

So while cutting early invention schemes to treat mental illness may be a false economy, not investing in programmes to promote mental health makes no sense at all.

Mental health promotion and mental illness prevention: The economic case (April 2011)


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      .content (string) = March 5 is World Read Aloud Day. When we compiled our Good Books for Tough Times guides, our hope was that parents and carers would use the guides to find really good books to share and enjoy with their children. As well as being lovely books in themselves, the stories all look at issues that might be troubling children – friendship problems, bullying, family break-up. Reading together, as well as being a joy in itself, can also be a way in to talking about problems and how to tackle them.

Jacqueline Wilson is the best-selling author of stories about all sorts of issues facing children, and she kindly agreed to write the Foreword to our guide to books for children aged five to eight. She also gave Partnership for Children an exclusive interview, and in it revealed how much she loved reading aloud with her daughter, Emma.

‘There was just one thing that kept us both thoroughly happy and contented, and that was our reading aloud sessions. I’d sit her on my lap and cuddle her close and we’d turn the pages of a big picture book together. When there was a dog we’d go ‘woof, woof’ and pretend to stroke him. When there was a picture of a cake we’d pretend to eat and go ‘yum, yum’. It was as simple and as basic as that.’

The reading aloud sessions did not stop when Emma learned to read. Instead, Jacqueline read her older books that she could not yet tackle on her own.

‘It’s the thing I cherish about her childhood,’ she says, ‘we both feel very nostalgic about that time. When she was 14 she enjoyed doing patchwork, and I would read Charles Dickens to her, and then if I had a particularly grim mountain of ironing to do, she would read to me. Reading aloud somehow helps you to get to grips with the characters.’

Because reading aloud has been such an important part of her own family life, Jacqueline was surprised to find some years ago that it is an experience many children never enjoy.

‘I was talking to a group of school children and I said something about a bedroom story, “you know, like your mum or dad reads to you every night.” They looked blank – and these weren’t children in some really grim sink estate, they were from ordinary middle-class families. Very few of them had stories read to them when they went to bed. Story tapes are fine, they stop you going bonkers on a long car journey, but they’re not the same as having your mum or dad reading to you, and that doesn’t happen so much now.

‘When I looked into it a bit, I was surprised to find that parents would often read to small children who couldn’t read for themselves, but then stop when they were six, instead of carrying on until they’re 10 or 11, reading them more challenging books that they might not tackle on their own. That’s one good thing about the whole Harry Potter phenomenon – it has encouraged a lot of dads to read to their children. It need not cost anything, because you can borrow the books from the library, and it’s something that families can do together.’

During her time as the UK Children’s Laureate, Jacqueline turned this private passion into a public campaign, making reading aloud her top priority. She promoted a book called Great Books to Read Aloud, saying: ‘It’s a wonderful way of bonding together and simultaneously entering the magic world of the imagination. It’s the easiest way of making sure your child is hooked on books for life.’

Some parents, though, say that it is hard to find time to read to their children.

‘Yes, it’s terribly easy for me,’ says Jacqueline, ‘long since finished with being a mother and always having had a job where I could juggle my time to be with my daughter when she came home. It is exhausting working full-time with two children at home, but you don’t say ‘Well, I know you’re hungry but I haven’t got time to give you any food.’ If you haven’t got time for a cuddle and to read together for 15 minutes every evening – well, maybe something needs to change.’


Even today, when children have so many other media to distract them – TV, Xbox, iPads and smartphones – it’s hard to beat the pleasure of hearing a story read aloud. However old your child is, give it a try on World Read Aloud Day.


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      .content (string) = "What does Partnership for Children do?" asked the old lady.

Well, I said, we produce resources to help teachers and parents to promote their children’s mental health or emotional wellbeing.  

"You mean handicapped children?" she said.

No, all children.  It is important to promote the mental health of all children, and …

She stopped me in mid-flow.  "Why?"

I explained that young children can find it hard to cope with the pressures and difficulties that modern life throws at them – from repeated testing at primary school to the heartbreak of a broken home or the isolation of bullying.  Anxiety is a common mental health problem.  The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that nearly 300,000 young people in Britain have an anxiety disorder.  More than 4,000 children are admitted to hospital every year after self-harming, and suicide is the second biggest cause of death among 15-19 year olds.

She wasn’t convinced.  "Well, I never had anything like that when I was young and I’m fine," she said emphatically.  "I’m afraid I won’t be giving you any money."

Years have passed since that conversation and attitudes have changed.  Our main activity is a programme called Zippy’s Friends, which helps young children learn how to cope with difficulties, and more and more countries want to use it.  The number of children enrolled increases every year, as people recognise that children need help to develop life skills.  After all, we promote our children’s physical health by giving them good food to eat, encouraging them to exercise and play sport, wrapping them up warmly on cold days.  But they can’t feel really well unless they are also mentally and emotionally healthy.

Yet ten years ago, that seemed to be a novel idea in many countries.  Having lived for years in Hong Kong, I wondered how Zippy’s Friends would fare in China’s highly academic and competitive education system.  Sure enough, when the programme started in Shanghai, some parents did complain that their children should be learning to read, write and count, not talking about their feelings.  Gradually, though, attitudes changed, and before long parents in Beijing were complaining if their children couldn’t join the programme.

From New Jersey to the Netherlands, India to Iceland, it has been exciting to see so many countries embracing not just Zippy’s Friends but the whole concept of promoting young children’s mental health.  We are up to 27 countries and counting.  Slovakia joined our partnership last year, Bulgaria and Haiti will be next.  This year we will enrol our one millionth child.  As Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a changin’.  

This blog space will be a chance for colleagues and partners around the world to share their knowledge and experience of children’s mental health – what works, what doesn’t, what matters.  It is a place to test ideas, express opinions, inform and provoke us.

And there is still a long way to go.  Last year in Mauritius a top journalist asked me the same questions that the old lady had asked years ago.  Again, I explained what we do and why we do it, shared some grim statistics and some evidence of our success.  Fortunately, he was convinced and wrote a supportive article for his newspaper.  One more ally.

And the old lady?  She recently sent us a donation. Changin’ indeed.
      .summary (string) = Director Chris Bale reflects on how attitudes towards children’s mental health promotion are changing around the world.
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By : Partnership for Children
Date : Apr 7, 2014
Teachers in Bulgaria

Zippy’s Friends helps young children to develop coping and social skills.  But what about its impact on teachers?

By : Partnership for Children
Date : Mar 18, 2014
Six charities have highlighted the importance of treating mental illness as early as possible.  They’re right.  But promoting mental health is even more cost effective.
By : Partnership for Children
Date : Mar 5, 2014
March 5 is World Read Aloud Day. When we compiled our Good Books for Tough Times guides, our hope was that parents and carers would use the guides to find really good books to share and enjoy with their children.
By : Chris Bale
Date : Feb 28, 2014
What does Partnership for Children do?
Director Chris Bale reflects on how attitudes towards children’s mental health promotion are changing around the world.

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MentalHealthPromotion
Array ( [id] => 15 [name] => Apple's Friends [parent_id] => -1 [item_order] => 4 [hierarchy] => 00004 [long_name] => Apple's Friends [description] => [depth] => 0 [count] => 5 [url] => http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/blog/category/15/Apples-Friends.html ) 1
Apple'sFriends
Array ( [id] => 6 [name] => bullying [parent_id] => [item_order] => 5 [hierarchy] => 00005 [long_name] => bullying [description] => [depth] => 0 [count] => 1 [url] => http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/blog/category/6/bullying.html ) 1
bullying
Array ( [id] => 16 [name] => Teachers [parent_id] => -1 [item_order] => 5 [hierarchy] => 00005 [long_name] => Teachers [description] => [depth] => 0 [count] => 1 [url] => http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/blog/category/16/Teachers.html ) 1
Teachers
Array ( [id] => 7 [name] => academic achievement [parent_id] => [item_order] => 6 [hierarchy] => 00006 [long_name] => academic achievement [description] => [depth] => 0 [count] => 2 [url] => http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/blog/category/7/academic-achievement.html ) 1
academicachievement
Array ( [id] => 8 [name] => mental health charities [parent_id] => [item_order] => 7 [hierarchy] => 00007 [long_name] => mental health charities [description] => [depth] => 0 [count] => 1 [url] => http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/blog/category/8/mental-health-charities.html ) 1
mentalhealthcharities
Array ( [id] => 9 [name] => Mental Health in Schools [parent_id] => [item_order] => 8 [hierarchy] => 00008 [long_name] => Mental Health in Schools [description] => [depth] => 0 [count] => 12 [url] => http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/blog/category/9/Mental-Health-in-Schools.html ) 1
MentalHealthinSchools
Array ( [id] => 10 [name] => Special Education Needs [parent_id] => [item_order] => 9 [hierarchy] => 00009 [long_name] => Special Education Needs [description] => [depth] => 0 [count] => 2 [url] => http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/blog/category/10/Special-Education-Needs.html ) 1
SpecialEducationNeeds
Array ( [id] => 11 [name] => School [parent_id] => [item_order] => 10 [hierarchy] => 00010 [long_name] => School [description] => [depth] => 0 [count] => 4 [url] => http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/blog/category/11/School.html ) 1
School
Partnership for Children, 26-27 Market Place, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, KT1 1JH, England
Telephone : 00 44 (0) 20 8974 6004 - Registered Charity number: 1089810