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Watch Me Play!

A pilot feasibility study of a remotely-delivered intervention to promote mental health resilience for children (age 0-8) across UK early years and children’s services.


Around one in six children in England were identified as having a mental health problem in July 2020, an increase from one in eight children in 2017. Early intervention is important to prevent or reduce the likelihood of developing mental health problems. Services, however, have experienced rising demand and services are not always able to offer help when families need it. In 2019-20 only a quarter of children estimated to need help in England received it. Those who do get access to services often have to wait months. Barriers to accessing help are further exacerbated for certain groups, e.g. children with a social worker, those with developmental delay and those living in areas of high deprivation. This is despite such children being at increased risk of developing mental health problems.

Strengthening parent-child interaction and relationships is known to protect children’s mental health. Watch me Play! (WMP) developed to aid mental health resilience for babies and children by promoting individual attention and age-appropriate stimulation and supporting the caregiver's relationship and interaction with their child. Caregivers have reported improvements in their relationship with their baby or child and children’s play skills, speech and language development, and behaviour. We think these improvements may help to prevent future mental health problems. WMP is now offered as an early intervention in a wide range of services across the UK. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, it has primarily been offered remotely via video link.

Study design

Although WMP shows promise and is already used in some services, we do not yet know whether it is effective. To determine if WMP improves well-being in families, we need to conduct a test (a randomised control trial - RCT). In the present study, we will determine if it is possible to conduct this test by doing a smaller study that seeks to understand how parents engage with WMP (a pilot feasibility study). Forty parents will be recruited from early years and children services and offered WMP remotely. Families of babies and children (ages 0 to 8) referred to early years’ services across the UK will be invited to participate in the study.

Study outcomes

We will learn more about the experiences of families receiving WMP and also about families’ experiences of participation in the research study itself. We will investigate how WMP works as an intervention from the perspective of families, practitioners and services. We will investigate what other treatment is offered as usual practice in services and how much WMP costs to deliver. We will share our findings widely, including with the parents, foster carers, clinicians, service managers and social workers who have advised on the design of this study.


Results due to be published Jan 2025.

Key facts

Start date 1 Jun 2022
End date 31 Jan 2024
Grant value £291,536
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