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Professor Helen Dodd is an expert in child mental health. 

Play expert joins Exeter’s child mental health research group

An international expert on children’s anxiety and the importance of adventurous play for children is joining the University of Exeter.

Professor Helen Dodd will take up her new post on June 14th. Helen holds a prestigious UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship, which funds a programme of research investigating whether adventurous play can help reduce children’s risk for anxiety.

Helen is an expert in child mental health with a particular interest in the development of childhood anxiety disorders. Her research has been funded by the ESRC, Royal Society, British Academy, Kavli Trust and the Australian Research Council. She has received awards for her research, most recently from the British Psychology Society for her outstanding contribution to developmental psychology.

Helen led the recently published British Children’s Play Survey which provided the largest ever snapshot of the state of children’s play across Britain. She collaborates with a range of external partners, including Play England, Outdoor Play and Learning and the Association of Play Industries. Her research has a long-term goal of introducing adventurous play into schools.

During the pandemic Helen has led the @PlayFirstUK group, which has advocated for children’s play to be prioritised as lockdowns have eased. With this group, she is currently campaigning for a #summerofplay for all children, working closely with Save the Children and Play England.

Currently at the University of Reading, the Professor of Child Psychology will join Exeter’s Children and Young People’s Mental Health Research Collaboration (ChYMe) together with two postdoctoral researchers Dr Rachel Nesbit and Dr Lily FitzGibbon.

Helen said: “I’m really excited to join the dynamic and growing research group at the University of Exeter. We know that children’s mental health is in decline, and after their lives were so severely disrupted by COVID-19, our research is currently more important than ever. I’m looking forward to new and exciting collaboration opportunities, both within the College of Medicine and Health and also with colleagues from disciplines including education, psychology and sports and health science.”

Dr Vashti Berry, who leads ChYMe, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Helen, Rachel and Lily into our research group and to Exeter. ChYMe was established to promote the health and wellbeing of children and young people and their research on childhood anxiety and play strongly aligns with our mission, which is now particularly high on the public agenda as a result of COVID-19. We’re looking forward to the new opportunities their collaboration will bring as part of our impactful work to improve lives.”


Date: 1 June 2021

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