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Unique child/family psychology training celebrates 20 years

30 September 2022

The University of Canterbury (UC) celebrates 20 years of the Child and Family Psychology programme today. The sought-after qualification trains psychologists specifically to work with children, adolescents and families, and remains unique in Aotearoa.


Child psychology is a complex area of psychology that needs a special focus, which is why UC established a specialist qualification in child and family psychology 20 years ago

Child psychology educator Associate Professor Karyn France launched the programme, with others, because she saw the need for a targeted and holistic approach to child and family psychology training.

“It was a big undertaking at the time,” she says. “Child psychology is a complex area of psychology that needs a special focus. It’s ethically and practically more complex treating a child than an adult, because the child’s caregiver and teachers are the ones who initiate the referral and make decisions for the child. We need to work with both the child, the family and other key people, negotiating consent and advocacy challenges, to find effective treatment plans.”   

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 - Good Health and Well-being Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Current Child and Family Psychology programme director Professor Michael Tarren-Sweeney has spent his career researching the well-being and psychological development of children who grow up in foster care. Professor Tarren-Sweeney advises governments around the world on how they can improve these children’s lives by reforming state care systems and designing specialised mental health services for them and their caregivers.

An important development for the programme was opening the Pukemanu Centre at UC 10 years ago to provide assessments and interventions on a short-term basis for children and families. The centre facilitates professional training for students of the advanced Child and Family Psychology post-graduate qualification under the supervision of registered psychologist staff.

Pukemanu Centre Director Suzi Hall said that the centre provides a place where skill development is scaffolded to meet the requirements for registration as a psychologist. “It also means our interns are making a direct contribution to family/whanau support and wellbeing, particularly for children, while they are training. Our graduates have a specialised qualification they can be proud of, and they continue to build on this expertise with their professional experience.”

Executive Director Faculty of Health at UC, Associate Professor Cathy Andrew, says the programme is key to filling the national need for specialised psychologists but has also become an important hub for ground-breaking research.

“Here in Health, our people are conducting important research on aspects of child development and adaptation, which is adding to country’s understanding of specific challenges and treatment options for children and adolescents.” 

The Pukemanu Centre offers free interactive online parenting resources – find them here. Three parenting programmes are available to help with child or teen anxiety, parenting young children up to 12 years of age and parenting teens, as well as supporting resilience in parents. They are easy to use with videos, activities and a downloadable workbook.

Associate Professor France is registered clinical psychologist who specialises in childhood sleep, child and family interventions, emotional and behavioural regulation in children, and parent behaviour and education. She retired in 2020 but has remained working part-time with the programme, her research and the Centre. She will move to an adjunct position in 2023. 

The 20th anniversary milestone will be celebrated with graduates and current students of the programme, university staff and organisations in the community who support and employ programme students and graduates.

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