Parents of 5-12 year old children from Devon who suffer from anxiety are being invited to join a research study looking at the best way to deliver treatment for child anxiety problems when there are social-distancing restrictions in place due to COVID-19.

The Co-CAT study (Child Anxiety Treatment in the context of COVID-19) is being led by Professor Cathy Creswell at the University of Oxford, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)/UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) COVID-19 Rapid Response Initiative. The study, being run locally by Devon Partnership Trust , will evaluate whether an online therapy programme for children with anxiety problems during the COVID-19 pandemic is as effective as existing mental health treatment services and could save money.

Dr Christine Curle, Professional Lead for Child Psychology & Psychological Therapies for Devon Partnership NHS Trust /Children and Family Health Devon, said: “Like many Children and Young Person mental health services, we have moved much of our care offer online so it is timely for us to be involved in a study exploring a remotely delivered, supported offer of evidence-based treatment for anxiety. We are delighted to be part of this study.”

The study will compare a parent-led treatment which involves access to content on a website with therapist support throughout for anxiety difficulties in children with the usual treatment currently being offered to treat child anxiety difficulties. The new online platform involves seven online modules which are accompanied by seven weekly telephone calls for the parent/carer with a clinician. Eligible young people and their families will be contacted through CAMHS and offered the chance to participate.

In the context of COVID-19, NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) face major challenges in providing psychological treatments that both work when delivered remotely and can be delivered efficiently to manage an anticipated increase in referrals as social distancing measures are relaxed.

Dr Ruth Newman , Senior Research Practitioner at Devon Partnership NHS Trust, said: “It is a really exciting time to be involved in research studies which aim to help children, young people and their families in Devon –we hope as many people as possible will be able to access these new opportunities which may provide effective and sustainable new treatments for depression and anxiety.”

Anxiety problems are a common reason for referral to CAMHS, children with pre-existing anxiety problems are particularly vulnerable in the context of COVID-19, and there are concerns about likely increases in childhood anxiety as schools reopen and further lockdowns and restrictions are implemented.

In a recent survey carried out by Young Minds in March, 83% of young people said the coronavirus pandemic has made their mental health worse. In a follow up survey in June, 41% said it had made their mental health “much worse”, up from 32% in the previous survey in March.

It is hoped the research study has the potential to create a step change in the digital delivery of treatments in CAMHS, bringing benefits in the COVID-19 context and beyond.

Lucy Taylor, Trial Manager at the University of Oxford, said: “We are delighted to be working with so many great teams across the country that are now supporting this ambitious project which has been setup up with great speed; Devon Partnership NHS Trust, as part of Child and Family Health Devon, are our first live site and we are looking forward to children and families hopefully benefitting from our new intervention.”

For more information contact the study team on or Dr Ruth Newman

Discover more local research news:

All News Stories from the South West Peninsula region.

Find us on social media:

Twitter: @NIHRSW

Facebook: @NIHRSW

Instagram: @NIHRSW