Childhood First’s unique and effective therapeutic method has been developed over half a century and is known as Integrated Systemic Therapy (iST).  It transforms young lives, delivering unparalleled success in the treatment of children and young people suffering serious emotional and behavioural disturbance.

It is rooted in two key streams of therapeutic tradition:

  • The ‘planned environment’ or ‘milieu therapy’ of the therapeutic community movement.
  • The ‘systemic’ (family and group systems) thinking which emerged from the psychoanalytic movement.

iST is also perfectly aligned with the findings of modern brain science, which offers new insight into why our approach is so successful.

The Children’s Needs

When they come to us, children’s earlier life trauma is expressed through disturbed, violent and sometimes sexualised behaviours which communicate their distress. Most have had a profoundly disrupted parenting experience in their first five years of life. To recover from this severe relational trauma and to develop, they require an experience of profoundly healing relationships.

Clinical Expertise

Having lacked the opportunity to learn to process emotion and to relate to others, traumatised children need an environment where developing these capacities and skills is the explicit focus and clinical expertise.


The key outcome for which we strive is to maximise each child’s capacity to live in healthy, hopeful relationship with others. On this depends all of the other necessary outcomes which contribute to their thriving.


Whatever their symptoms, the children referred to us have been damaged by adults who struggle to relate well, perhaps as a result of similar childhood experiences of their own.  It is only through experiencing healthy adult relationships that eventual and enduring recovery is found.  iST is at heart a highly specialised model of parenting, capable of coping with the needs of traumatised children, and which is founded on adults having the time, energy and enthusiasm to think together in depth about, and with, children.

Robust, skilful, compassionate

iST is robust to contain extreme levels of behavioural disturbance so that all of the children and adults who live in our homes can do so safely.  Children can then stay with us for long enough to allow trusting relationships to be built, and crucial therapeutic and educational work to be done.

iST is skilful to ensure that the painful disclosing, understanding and healing of trauma takes place for each child, and the ability to make healthy attachments and relationships is experienced and learned.

iST is compassionate so that every child can experience and learn that they are loveable and loved, however aggressive or destructive is the communication of their distress, anger, shame.

Breaking the cycle

Traumatised children learn with us to appreciate what a warm, loving and ordinary ‘family’ life and education is like. The cycle of trauma is broken, enabling a return to mainstream family life, either in birth or substitute family, or on to independent living at 18+, and when adulthood is reached, healthy family lives of their own.