Wirral Child Health and Development Study: First Steps


For more news updates please check our study twitter @theWCHADS

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Teencam pilot study success!

30th October 2023

We have had such an over-whelming response from First Steps families to the teencam pilot study invite! We initially planned to only recruit 40 families into the pilot study, but after so many participants showed an interest we decided to do more assessments and have currently seen around 80 families. We will keep running the pilot study until January so please do get in touch if you would like to take part.

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Friends news item

New paper on support seeking from friends and parents and depression in early adolescence

9th May 2023

Dr Wright and the team have published a paper from the age 13 years questionnaire wave examining support seeking and depression symptoms in early adolescence. Adolescence is a time when friendships become highly salient relationships in young peoples’ lives and friends may be increasingly used as sources of support. However, we showed that turning to friends for emotional support more than turning to parents was associated with increased depression symptoms. This was true for girls and not boys, and may be part of the explanation for why girls experience a rapid increase in depression symptoms in adolescence. Read more.  

WCHADS team present at Society for Research in Child Development conference

25 March 2023

Nicky Wright, Elizabeth Braithwaite and Jonathan Hill presented in a symposium with collaborators from Manchester Metropolitan University titled “Matches and Mismatches, Developmentally Informative and Sometimes Surprising!”. The individual talks included replication and extension of previous WCHADS findings which were based on evolutionary and epigenetic hypotheses. Elizabeth presented an extension of our previous findings to age 13 self-reported depression in WCHADS and Nicky presented a replication to preschool behavioural problems in our sister cohort the Bangalore Child Health & Development Study  Jonathan Hill reported findings currently in press showing that secure infant attachment may create a vulnerability for later child mental health problems where the caregiver is unsupportive or aggressive.

WCHADS team present at Marce Society Perinatal Mental Health conference

19th September 2022

Helen Sharp presented on the observational coding of mother-infant interaction at 6 months in WCHADS as part of the ESMI project aiming to identify tools to be used in clinical practice. Liz Braithwaite’s talk titled “Breast may not always be best” reported findings showing that breastfeeding may be associated with increased childhood irritability if mothers have high prenatal depression symptoms. Jonathan Hill presented data from the interviews completed by the intensive subsample during pregnancy on how mothers established their current partner relationship.

Dr Nicky Wright presents new data on Covid-19 impact on young adolescent mental health

18th August 2022

Nicky presented data currently being prepared for publication from the new wave of data (Phase 16) to the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. With three waves of data collected around the pandemic, WCHADS is in a unique position to separate out age-expected change in mental health symptoms from pandemic effects.

Nicky reports that the impact on depression has actually been greater on young adolescent males. Depression rates increase very steeply with age over adolescence for girls and the pandemic has not added to this. Behavioural problems have increased in both adolescent male and females.

Watch Nicky’s presentation here.

Study findings presented at the Life History Society Research meeting

11th  July 2022

Helen Sharp, Andrew Pickles and Nicky Wright presented a symposium at the biannual meeting on the pandemic impact on child and adolescent mental health symptoms.

Nicky presented data currently being prepared for publication from the new wave of data collection (Phase 16) separating out the effects of age-expected change in mental health symptoms from pandemic effects. In this analysis, the pandemic impact on depression has been greater for boys male adolescents, and behavioural problems have increased in both males and females. Dr Sharp presented data from WCHADS sister cohort, the Bangalore Child Health and Development Study (BCHADS), showing a small impact on preschool Indian children’s mental health overall but that certain subgroups are adversely affected.

Dr Helen Sharp presents at the Association for Infant Mental Health (AIMH) conference

Dr Sharp presented on the observational coding of mother-infant interaction collected in WCHADS at 6 months of age. The data is being used as part of the ESMI project aiming to identify tools to be used to assess mothers and infants in clinical practice. WCHADS data was coded using different brief observational coding schemes to help  identify a brief, valid and reliable measure to use in the NHS.

Podcasts from Professor Sharp and Nicky Wright discussing COVID-19 mental health impact findings

16th July 2021

Study Lead Professor Helen Sharp and Post Doc Dr Nicky Wright completed podcast interviews discussing our initial findings on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of families and young people.

You can find the podcasts here:

Paper published on COVID-19 mental health impact on young adolescents and their mothers

We published our first paper on the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in JCPP Advanced. We showed that the onset of the pandemic led to an increase in mental health symptoms, specifically depression and behavioural problems in young adolescents, and depression in mothers.

Young adolescents and mothers who were already at risk from having had past mental health problems had the highest rates of problems during the pandemic, and some young adolecents developed problems for the first time in this period. 

You can see the press release for the paper and read the full paper here.

Phase 16 questionnaire phase underway

27th July 2021

We are excited to announce the start of a brief questionnaire wave now that the children are around 13 years old. Thanks to the overwhelming support we received from families completing questionnaires for us during the pandemic we secured additional funding from the University of Reading to conduct another wave of data collection on the study. The wave is also supported by a grant awarded to Post Doc Dr Nicky Wright from the British Academy Small Research Grants scheme to examine friendships in early adolescence.

Amended Phase 15 questionnaire including questions on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

18th June 2020

We paused our ongoing questionnaire wave in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in the UK. We felt it was important to amend the questionnaires to allow families to be able report on how the pandemic was affecting their lives, so we removed some content to make room for some new questions. On June 18th 2020 we sent out the new survey to all participants.

Announcing our new study logo

22nd February 2020

As the WCHADS children are no longer babies, we asked our study children to design a new logo that better represented their upcoming journey into adolescence. We loved every single entry into the logo competition and were so impressed with the artistic talents of the WCHADS children. It was tough to choose a winner, but here is our winning entry digitised into our new First Steps logo.

The First Steps Study is moving!

10th January 2020

We are currently moving our research study base from the Lauries Centre, Birkenhead to the University of Liverpool. We will update our address on all our forms and letters soon. The iconic (or some might say strange!) Lauries Centre building has been our home for the past 11 years and we hope to return in the future.

Phase 15 questionnaire wave underway!

20th December 2019

We are excited to announce the start of our age 11-12 questionnaire wave on the study (December 2019). Half of the study children have just made the transition to high school, with the the younger half moving up next year, so it is a very busy time for families. We have decided to run a brief questionnaire wave, where we are asking both mums/primary caregivers and children to complete a questionnaire for us, either online or by post. We will really miss seeing all the study families at this age but hope to secure future funding to see you all again for an assessment in the future!

New study publication reported in The Bridge

Article featured in The Bridge Magazine, 8th May 2018:

One of our recent publications has been reported in The Bridge, a magazine produced by the Academy of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH). The paper examines the contribution of early parenting behaviours to the development of concern for others in children at preschool age.

Read the article here

Age 9 Assessment Phase Underway!

23rd May 2017

The First Steps team are excited to announce that we are starting the age 9 assessment phase on the study. At age 9 we are hoping that all of the families will visit us at our child development lab in the Lauries Centre, Birkenhead, to complete a short developmental assessment. We will also be doing some home assessments for families who prefer this option. We have lots of different tasks and games for the children and a well-stocked prize cupboard to reward them for their efforts. We look forward to seeing all the families again – it’s hard to believe the children are now 9 years old!


More study findings presented at biennial conference

The Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) biennial meeting, Austin, Texas, 6-8 April 2017

Dr Helen Sharp presented findings from a working memory task ("spin the pots") completed by the whole sample at the age 3 assessment wave. The findings showed important sex differences in how working memory predicts children's behaviour at age 5. Prof Jonathan Hill was reporting findings from the 'cyber-ball' computer task completed by the intensive sample at age 5, showing that differences in how children react to being socially excluded predicted teacher reports of behaviour at age 7 years.  


First Steps team take part in Meet the Scientist event

World Museum Liverpool, 23 April 2016

Members of the First Steps Study team took part in an interactive, hand-on science day, called “healthy bodies, healthy minds”, bringing together scientists from the University of Liverpool and the general public at the Liverpool World Museum. The team presented activities for young children and parents to complete that showcase some of the challenges children face growing up. The “I want it now” task tests children’s ability to tolerate a delay in receiving rewards – children were asked to choose between having an immediate reward or wait a few minutes to get a bigger reward. There were also other activities designed to assess children’s ability to recognise emotions in other people’s faces, their ability to switch attention whilst balancing speed and accuracy, follow new rule changes, and work together with a parent to achieve a goal. ‌

Study findings on sex differences presented at conference

Life History Research Society Meeting, Amsterdam, 25-28 May 2016

Researchers from the First Steps study team have presented findings on sex differences of young children at a conference in Amsterdam. Those presenting included the leads of the study, Prof Jonathan Hill and Dr Helen Sharp, as well as Nicky Wright, a researcher working with the families on the study.

The conference is an informal, multi-disciplinary group of researchers who are working in longitudinal research (like the First Steps study) on various aspects of human development. 

Picture: Dr Helen Sharp (left) and Prof Jonathan Hill and Nicky Wright (far right) at the Life History Society meeting in Amsterdam with Professor Dale Hay (2nd from left) from Cardiff University who runs the Cardiff Child Development Study.

a baby being touched by its mother

Mothers’ touch could change effects of prenatal stress

Article featured in University News:

Scientists at the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and King’s College London, have found that mothers who stroke their baby’s body in the first few weeks after birth may change the effects that stress during pregnancy can have on an infant’s early-life development.

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