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ZonMw grant for Leonie Vreeke to develop a stepped-care treatment for very shy young children

Psychologist Leonie Vreeke is ready to start a new 5-year research project which was granted by ZonMw with nearly € 600.000,-. A PhD student and a research assistant will be appointed to execute this project, together with societal partners such as the Public Health Services, child care professionals, parent/child stakeholders, municipalities and mental health professionals.

Leonie Vreeke's new project is an outgrowth of two previously large scaled studies funded by ZonMw focused on extremely shy toddlers and preschoolers. Although these children have a higher risk of developing psychological problems, parents often seek help too late, which leads to more extensive treatment, higher healthcare costs, and a higher burden of disease.

In the first ZonMw funded study, Vreeke examined a short questionnaire to screen and detect vulnerable children at risk for developing anxiety disorders. Based on the positive results, this short questionnaire is now used by the JGZ ( Youth Health Care) to identify these children. When children score high on the screening questionnaire, a parent group training called Cool Little Kids (CLK) is advised. 

In a subsequent ZonMw funded study, the effectiveness of this CLK training was examined. However, during the execution of this study it was found that sometimes this CLK training is too intensive, whilst in other cases, additional treatment may be required.

Three steps

Therefore, there is a need for a stepwise treatment specific to young children, taking into account the degree of shyness and its impact on the child. This project aims to develop a stepped-care treatment and investigate which type of support is most suitable for which group of parents and children, starting with:

  • an online webinar for parents (step 1)
  • the Cool Little Kids group treatment (step 2)
  • intensive individual treatment (step 3)

For the recent December 2022 call, researchers could submit project ideas. This was done by 217 researchers by the end of February. Vreeke describes the tight schedule: 'In May, I heard from ZonMw that we could develop the idea further; in mid-June we submitted the full version of the grant proposal; in mid-July we received the feedback from a client panel and three international experts; in mid-August I sent a response to that feedback; in mid-September I was allowed to further explain the project in an interview in front of a committee of thirteen ZonMw panel members and answer their questions. At the end of October, we received the final result that we and six other of the remaining 12 projects were honoured.' 


ZonMw programmes and funds research and innovation in health, healthcare and well-being, encourages the use of this knowledge and highlights knowledge needs. 
Working with knowledge to boost good health for all

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