skip to content

IZeF-RG Mental Health in educational institutions

(Speaker: Prof. Dr. Charlotte Hanisch)


Psychological problems are a risk factor for all levels of development: they can affect, for example, learning and school success, social integration and participation and various aspects of physical health. Preventive approaches can reduce this risk through early detection of mental stress. On the other hand, promoting mental health and well-being can increase resilience to stressors and make children, young people and adults more resilient to critical life events and failures.

Maintaining and improving mental health therefore plays an important role for educational institutions. In its projects, the IZeF-RG on „Mental Health in educational institutions“ attempts to record mental health in educational institutions and to improve it in a multi-modal, multi-stage and multi-professional way, i.e. both at the level of the individual and at the various system levels. Multilevel includes the different levels of prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. We assume that a comprehensive promotion of mental health in this sense can only succeed in a multi-professional way, i.e. involving as many disciplines and professions as possible.

The following research projects can be found in the IZeF-RG Mental Health in educational institutions:

Inselraum - support for children and parents during the transition to elementary school

The transition from nursery to elementary school is an important milestone in a child's development. Children and parents are faced with new challenges resulting from the new learning setting and the associated demands on children's learning behavior and self-regulation. Children with developmental risks in particular, such as growing up in families affected by poverty, can be burdened by the transition. For these children, the daycare center represents a social protection factor that can positively influence the conditions for the transition to school through the targeted promotion of school readiness. Due to the daycare center closures in the course of containing the COVID-19 pandemic and increased sickness rates among teaching staff, continuous care and support for preschool children could not be guaranteed. The NRW state government's "Arrive and Catch Up" action program was designed to enable children to catch up on learning deficits caused by the pandemic.

As part of the action program, the Inselraum project focuses on promoting the school readiness of children with special developmental risks (e.g. families affected by poverty, children with a language other than German, children who already have initial social-emotional problems) and involves parents and children alike. The support takes place on the school premises so that parents and children can familiarize themselves with the new learning environment. The children are selected in consultation with the socio-educational specialists of the school entry phase and on the basis of the school entry diagnostics. Before the support begins, the children are observed at the daycare center with regard to their learning and working behavior and an initial meeting is held with those implementing the project.

The Inselraum project was carried out for the first time from April to June 2022 at three Cologne elementary school in districts with potentially high levels of problems (e.g. low material living standards, low educational opportunities). In spring 2023, the program will be tested again in an adapted form at a Cologne elementary school.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Charlotte Hanisch, Dr. Stefanie Richard, Wiebke Heuter, Leona Wolff

Cooperation partners: Primary schools and daycare centers in the districts of Chorweiler, Vingst and Buchheim

Funding: Regional Education Office Cologne via the NRW state government's "Catching up after Corona" action program

Project duration: since 2022

Project publication: still pending



MuTig - "Designing a multi-professional transition"

The transition from kindergarten to elementary school is an important milestone for every child. For children with early intervention needs, the transition poses a particular challenge.
Firstly, the children are at an increased risk of failing at school and therefore also of developing learning or behavioural problems. Secondly, when they start school, the support provided by early intervention comes to an end. Thirdly, a lot of important information is often lost during the transition from kindergarten to elementary school, because those involved and institutions often do not exchange enough information.
The MuTig study has therefore set itself the goal of developing a service that effectively supports children with early intervention needs during the transition to an inclusive elementary school in terms of their learning and social-emotional development and social participation.
The starting point for the development of the offer is a survey of how the transition from kindergarten to school has been organized for these children to date and a needs analysis of which support structures and measures could be helpful for all those involved.
These findings will be combined with the current state of research into an offer format. The target group is children who receive early intervention services in the pre-school year and whose transition to elementary school is considered problematic due to learning, behavioral, contact problems and/or psychosocial risks. Depending on the needs analysis, measures are to be combined at the level of the child, parents, early intervention providers, educators and teachers or at the respective structural levels.

Further information can be found on the project homepage.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Charlotte Hanisch (University of Cologne), Simone Keßel (University of Cologne), Lotta Balters (University of Cologne), Laurence Nawab (University of Cologne), Helen Hegerath (University of Cologne), Christa Grüber-Stankowski (Center for Early Treatment and Early Intervention)

Cooperation partners: eight early intervention facilities from the Cologne administrative district, Cologne district government, Rhineland regional association (LVR)

Client: Center for Early Treatment and Early Intervention e.V., Cologne

Funding: Welfare Foundation, Kämpgen Foundation, Imhoff Foundation, Dr. Hans-Günther and Dr. Rita Herford Foundation

Project duration: 2019 - 2022

Project publications (selection):

Keßel, S., Hegerath, H., Grüber-Stankowski, C., Nawab, L., Balters, L., & Hanisch, C. (2021). MuTig- Designing a multi-professional transition. Interdisciplinary early intervention.

Keßel, S., Grüber-Stankowski, C., Hegerath, H., Hammes- Schmitz, E., & Hanisch, C. (2021). Early intervention as a facilitator of the transition to inclusive elementary school for children with early intervention needs - MuTig: Designing a multi-professional transition. In B. Gebhard, L. Simon, K. Ziemen, G. Opp & A. Groß-Kunkel (Eds.). Transitions Shaping transitions in early intervention. Schulz-Kirchner publishing house: Idstein.

Ziemen, K. & Hanisch, C. (2021). Designing transitions professionally. In B. Gebhard, L. Simon, K. Ziemen, G. Opp & A. Groß-Kunkel (Eds.). Transitions Shaping transitions in early intervention. Schulz-Kirchner publishing house: Idstein.

multimo - Multi-professional, multi-modal and multi-stage diagnostics and support for externalizing behavioural problems in nurseries and elementary school

The multimo research project attempts to reduce externalizing problem behaviour in primary school children using a two-stage (multimo Kita) or three-stage (multimo Schule), multimodal prevention strategy. Here, child-centered and environment-centered interventions (educational professionals, parents) are combined with varying degrees of intensity depending on the child's needs and implemented in a multi-professional team. Multimo has already been piloted in two school years in individual case studies and modified based on initial experience. In the 2019/2020 nursery year, the focus was on pre-school age in order to make it easier for affected children to start school. In the 2020/2021 school year, these measures are currently being continued in a school context.

Further information can be found on the project homepage.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Thomas Hennemann (University of Cologne), Charlotte Hanisch (University of Cologne), Johanna Krull (University of Cologne), Stefanie Richard (University of Cologne), Dr. Tobias Hagen (University of Cologne), Hanna Meyer (University of Cologne), Leonie Verbeck (University of Cologne), Katrin Floß (University of Cologne), Marie Schottel (University of Cologne)

Funding: Innovation pool of the University of Cologne; Mettmann district; Heilpädagogische Akademie

Project duration: 2019 - 2022

Project publication (selection):

Hanisch, C., Casale, G., Volpe, R., Briesch, A., Richard, S., Meyer, H., Hövel, D., Hagen, T., Krull, J., & Hennemann, T., (2019). Graduated support in elementary school. Prevention and Health Promotion, 14, 237-241. download



PEARL - "Mental health of pupils at special schools - An interdisciplinary cooperation project to develop recommendations for action"

The participatory and interdisciplinary PEARL project collects data on the mental health of pupils at special schools with a focus on emotional and social development and derives suitable school support measures from this. These are transferred to a target child with special support needs in training courses and accompanying coaching sessions with teachers and other educational staff.

Further information can be found on the project homepage.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Thomas Hennemann (University of Cologne), Charlotte Hanisch (University of Cologne), Tatjana Leidig (University of Cologne), Ulrike Vögele (University of Cologne), Michaela Jung (University of Cologne), Katrin Floß (University of Cologne), Emilie Niemeier (University of Cologne), Silke Gerlach (University of Cologne)

Funding: Cologne District Government; Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia

Project duration: 2018-2022

Project publications (selection):

Hennemann, T., Casale, G., Leidig, T., Fleskes, T., Döpfner, M., & Hanisch, C. (2020). Mental health of pupils at special schools with a focus on emotional and social development (PEARL) - An interdisciplinary cooperation project for the development of recommendations for action. Zeitschrift für Heilpädagogik, 71, 44-57.

Leidig, T., Hanisch, C., Vögele, U., Niemeier, É., Gerlach, S., & Hennemann, T. (2021). Professionalization in the context of externalizing behavioural problems - Development of a qualification and support concept for teachers at special schools with a focus on emotional and social development. Wissenschaftliche Jahreszeitschrift Emotionale und Soziale Entwicklung (ESE) in der Pädagogik der Erziehungshilfe und bei Verhaltensstörungen 3, 3, 88-98. Download

Thöne, A.-K., Junghänel, M., Görtz-Dorten, A., Breuer, D., del Giudice, T., Hanisch, C., Hennemann, T., & Döpfner, M. Empirically based dimensions of externalizing symptoms in children and adolescents - a multitrait multisource approach. Submitted to Assessment


PearlPLUS - "Mental health of pupils at special schools for youth welfare"

The Educational Support and Social-Emotional Developmental Support and Psychology and Psychotherapy in Curative Education and Rehabilitation departments carry out the PEARLPLUS project together with schools and youth welfare facilities of the Caritas-Jugendhilfe-Gesellschaft (CJG). Based on the precise description of the target group, the aim of the multi-year project is to promote the development of the participating children and young people in the social-emotional area and in learning and working behavior through targeted and individual support measures. Many pupils in the participating schools are also linked to CJG youth welfare facilities, which means that the conceptual focus here is on cooperation between teachers and reference educators as part of the Pearl Plus qualification.

In the long term, this should improve the emotional-social skills and psychosocial health of the children and young people and support the teachers and caregivers in their cooperative, educational work.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Thomas Hennemann, Charlotte Hanisch, Tatjana Leidig, Paul Martin Müller, Marie Schottel

Cooperation partners: Schools and youth welfare facilities of the Caritas-Jugendhilfe-Gesellschaft

Funding: Caritas Youth Welfare Society

Project duration: 2022-2025



SENSE - Shaping Emotionally Nurturing School Environments

The restrictions and school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the incidence of mental health problems in children and young people. Young people who were already affected by psychosocial risks or the first signs of mental health problems before the pandemic are particularly affected. However, access to services to strengthen mental health or prevent and treat mental disorders is often difficult for this group in particular, so schools play an important role in imparting knowledge about mental health and identifying support structures.
SENSE aims to support secondary schools and, in particular, teachers in strengthening mental health at school on the one hand and identifying young people with increased risks as early as possible and helping them to find suitable measures on the other.
To this end, information materials on mental health and the early detection of health risks are being developed with the aim of reducing the stigmatization often associated with mental disorders and thus the barriers to seeking help by providing knowledge. In addition, a toolbox is to be made available and used to strengthen mental health in the classroom. Teachers will be trained in the use of these materials as part of a further training course.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Charlotte Hanisch (project coordination), Maya Kalkhofen

Cooperation partners: die Berater (Austria), Tallinn University (Estonia), University of Limburg (Belgium), University of the Basque Country Leioa (Spain)

Funding: Erasmus+ school cooperation partnerships

Project duration: 2022-2024

Project publication: still pending


SpAu-Ki - Language skills in children with mental health problems of primary school age

Language impairments in children with externalizing and internalizing disorders are often overlooked in educational institutions, especially if they consist of less obvious problems in language comprehension. As a result, those affected do not receive the support they need.

Even if the direction of the correlations has not yet been sufficiently researched, there are indications that language skills play a non-negligible role in the development and maintenance of mental disorders. There could therefore be great potential in paying greater attention to them in order to improve the mental health of children of primary school age.

The aim of the SpAu-Ki research project is to highlight the connections between the two developmental areas and, in particular, the language skills of children with externalizing and internalizing disorders in a more differentiated way. More specifically, abilities at the levels of vocabulary, grammar and pragmatic communication are examined in connection with abnormalities in the disorder areas of ADHD and social behavior disorders as well as anxiety disorders and depression.

Based on the results differentiated in this way, the aim is to raise awareness of linguistic impairments when working with children with mental health problems and to enable a more appropriate approach to the specific language support needs in order to reduce the risk of restricting the activity and participation of those affected.

Further information can be found on the project homepage.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Thomas Hennemann (University of Cologne), Tanja Ulrich (University of Duisburg-Essen, shared project management), Clara Schramm (University of Cologne, project coordination)

School cooperation partners: 16 school locations in Cologne, Rhein-Erft district, Euskirchen district, Mettmann district

University cooperation partner: Prof. Dr. Andreas Mayer (LMU Munich)

Funding: Graduate School for Teacher Education at the University of Cologne

Project duration: 2021-2024


Strong expertise for Cologne's youngsters - expert survey on the transition from nursery to elementary school

The number of children taking advantage of an extended school entry phase has increased dramatically across NRW in the last year. In Cologne, this means that elementary school in some districts are unable to provide enough school places for the new first-graders. As little is known about the characteristics of the group of children who remain in the school entry phase for longer, it is unclear what support children, parents and institutions need. The aim of the project is to provide a description of the children and to derive recommendations for interventions based on this and the current state of research on promoting school readiness. After an online survey of schools and parents, results and conclusions will be discussed in focus groups with all professional groups, parents and children involved in the transition in a way that is appropriate to the target group.

Project team: Dr. Stefanie Richard, Prof. Dr. Charlotte Hanisch, Prof. Dr. Thomas Hennemann, Dr. Helen Rathgeber, Lotta Balters

Funding: City of Cologne

Project duration: 2024

Project publication: still pending



TAC - Teaching AD(H)D Children

Among the mental disorders of childhood and adolescence, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) occupies a prominent position due to its relative frequency - with a prevalence of 3-5% worldwide.
Children with AD(H)S have considerable difficulties in learning and social life. Teachers feel particularly burdened by the attention and discipline problems associated with AD(H)S. Regardless of their intellectual potential, the particular perception and reaction style of affected children often impairs their learning ability, memory and emotion regulation, which can lead to a lack of (mutual) understanding, stigmatization, social exclusion and even dropping out of school.
Over the past decades, a considerable body of knowledge about AD(H)S and supportive measures has been accumulated in scientific and professional circles. TAC would like to contribute to the preparation of this knowledge for the training and further education of teachers so that it can become a firm pillar of general school practice in the sense of inclusive education.
The core objective of the project is to create the conditions for corresponding updates to European curricula and further training measures for primary and secondary school teachers and to publicize and promote them among relevant stakeholders and decision-makers. TAC develops a pedagogical competence framework for dealing with AD(H)S-like behavior in the classroom suitable for integration into existing curricula as well as ready-to-use training and further education offers (each in English, German, Bulgarian and Portuguese):

  • a comprehensive module incl. practice, probably corresponding to 6 ECTS, including piloting with scientific monitoring for impact analysis;
  • a freely accessible online learning offer with a curated collection of resources;
  • a practice-oriented basic reading for information and orientation for educators.

Further information can be found on the project homepage.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Charlotte Hanisch, Lotta Balters, Sophia Fehl

Cooperation partners: Dublin City University (Ireland), die Berater (Austria), CATRO (Bulgaria), SPEL (Portugal), Trakische University (Bulgaria)

Funding: Erasmus+ School Cooperation Partnerships

Project duration: 2021-2024

Project publication: still pending


U-turn-Wiss - "Scientific monitoring of the intensive educational measure U-turn"

The district of Kleve has developed an innovative "U-turn" program at five locations in the district for pupils with intensive educational support needs with a focus on emotional and social development in accordance with Section 15 AO-SF. These pupils have a very high level of psychosocial problems and are exposed to a particular developmental risk, which extremely jeopardizes their participation in school and society and thus the greatest possible inclusion. Within U-turn, teachers for special educational needs cooperate with specialists from youth welfare services to support pupils in their social-emotional and academic development and to initiate successful learning processes.

In the first phase of the project, the scientific monitoring includes determining the current status of the intensive educational measures in order to derive recommendations for further development on this basis. The cross-sectional and longitudinal evaluation is based on the renowned CIPP model by Stufflebeam and Shinkfield (1988). On the basis of potential analyses, questionnaires, interviews and document analyses, an environmental analysis is carried out to determine the needs, resources and problems in the U-Turn locations (input evaluation) as well as the identification and assessment of the system's performance and resources (context evaluation). In addition, the current implementation of intensive educational support is analyzed (process evaluation) and the results of the intervention(s) to date are assessed against the background of the defined objectives (output evaluation). An analysis of the acceptance of the measures is also carried out by surveying the satisfaction and acceptance of the people involved in the process with regard to the educational measure. In the second phase of the project, a qualification and support concept for the intensive educational measure will be developed, implemented and evaluated on the basis of the evaluation results and the recommendations for action derived from them.

Project team: Prof. Dr. Thomas Hennemann (University of Cologne), Dr. Tatjana Leidig (University of Cologne), Dr. Tijs Bolz (Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg), Dr. Laura Ferreira González (University of Cologne), Miriam Düvelmeyer (University of Cologne)

Cooperation partners: five U-turn locations in the district of Kleve

Funding: Kleve district, Düsseldorf district government

Project duration: 2023-2026