Professor Jonathan Hill, University of Reading

I am Lead investigator on the study at the University of Reading, with a background in research into the developmental origins of child and adult psychopathology. Much of my work has aimed to identify disorders in ways that bring us closer to an understanding of causal processes, for example in the personality disorders. First Steps has provided us with a major opportunity to do this in relation to conduct disorders, through the study, from pregnancy onwards, of biological, social, and psychological processes underpinning contrasting patterns of aggressive and disruptive behaviours in children. Building on current developmental and parenting research, I have proposed a ‘domains framework’ for understanding and observing family processes, as a basis for therapeutic approaches with children and their parents.

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Professor Helen Sharp, University of Liverpool

I am Lead Investigator for the First Steps study at the University of Liverpool and I provide psychological and clinical expertise to the study. My background is in research in adult mental health, perinatal psychology, and clinical child psychology. The First Steps research study spans the fields of perinatal psychology, parental mental health, parenting and the identification of psychological, social and biological processes involved in children’s emotional and behavioural development. The aim of the research work is to inform the development of new interventions to ameliorate these difficulties early in life. I also now lead a parallel longitudinal study investigating shared and distinctive risks and protective factors for child mental health in India, called the Bangalore Child Health and Development Study. Studying child development in the urban slums of Bangalore brings another set of challenges and is particularly interesting given the environmental and cultural differences between the UK and India. In the University I teach trainee Clinical Psychologists and supervise a number of Masters and PhD research students. I also work part time as a Consultant Clinical Psychologist in the Parent-Infant Mental Health Service and within 0-13 CAMHS, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. In my National role as Chair of the Faculty of Perinatal Psychology, British Psychological Society I am actively involved in training other clinicians and advising on national policy and practice initiatives in perinatal and early parent-child interventions.

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Professor Andrew Pickles, Kings College London

I am Lead Investigator at King’s College London and bring developmental and statistical expertise to the research team. I am Director of the Biostatistics Department, King’s College London and a lead in the Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. I have worked on a range of studies, some of children with problems such as autism and others, like First Steps, examining the patterns and variation in the development of children from the general population. First Steps is proving to be the most fascinating study, a real privilege to be part of.

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Professor John Quinn, University of Liverpool

I am a co-investigator on the First Steps Study. I bring expertise in the area of neurobiology and contribute to the analysis of genetic samples from study participants. I contribute to scientific papers related to the interplay between children’s genetic make-up and the environment they grow up in. Our broader areas of research in mental health are focused on gene-environment interactions, how these combine to shape brain function and how the environment (psychological & physiological) can modify in the short or long term the neurochemicals in the brain.

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Dr Chris Murgatroyd, MMU

I am a co-investigator on the First Steps Study. I am a Senior Lecturer in genetics at Manchester Metropolitan University and supervise a number of Masters and PhD research students. My major interests are in how genes important for behaviour can become programmed in response to the early-life environment and maternal care.

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Dr Nicky Wright

I am an investigator on the small grants which funded the adolescent data collection waves on the First Steps Study. I first joined the study in 2009 as a Masters student and I completed my PhD at the University of Liverpool in early 2018. I am now a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. My research focuses on the application of advanced statistical methods to enrich our understanding of the development of mental health problems in childhood and adolescence. I combine multiple levels of explanation (biological, social, individual) using multi-method of data (interview, observational, experimental, biological, survey data). I am particularly interested in the role of relationships (parent-child, peer, romantic) in the intergenerational transmission of mental health problems. On the study I lead the adolescent data collection and over-see the running of assessment phases. Prior to adolescence I conducted interviews with mothers from age 1 onwards and assessments with the children in the study at ages 3, 7 and 9 years.

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Research Collaborators

Dr Leonardo De Pascalis

I am Lecturer in Developmental Psychopathology in the Institute of Population Health at University of Liverpool, where I am also part of the Perinatal, Infant and Child Mental Health research group. The main areas of my research work focus on adult mental health during the period of the transition to parenthood, on mother-infant interactions, and the effect these have on later child development and mental health. The First Steps study represents an ideal opportunity to expand the scientific knowledge available on these topics, and I have been honoured to collaborate with its research team since 2016.

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Dr Liz Braithwaite

I am a Senior Research Associate at Manchester Metropolitan University, and part of my research is focused on the link between exposure to early life stress and developmental psychopathology, with a particular focus on sex differences and biological mechanisms. I was awarded a first class honours BSc in Neuroscience from Cardiff University in 2011, and a PhD in Psychiatry from The University of Oxford in 2015. I completed postdoctoral research positions at the Universities of Oxford and Reading, and whilst at Reading worked with Professor Jonathan Hill on analysing data from the WCHADS cohort. Since then, I have continued to collaborate on projects involving data from the WCHADS cohort, and have published several papers on sex differences in effects of early life stress on emotional and behavioural outcomes. I have also been working to replicate these findings using data from other birth cohorts, such as the ALSPAC cohort.

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Laura Bozicevic

I completed my Masters degree with Distinction in Psychology at the University of Bologna (Italy) and my PhD at the University of Reading. PhD, with Professor Lynne Murray at the University of Reading, focuses on the effect of culture and quality of early mother-infant interaction on child emotion-regulation development in the first three years of life. I joined the First Steps team in April 2017, to act as a link between the teams working on the Wirral Child Health and Development Study in UK and its replication in India, the Bangalore Child Health and Development Study. My current research interests focus on the identification of early risk and protective factors for childhood mental health problems, and the specific effects that culture and parenting style have on later child development.

Danielle Crook

I completed my BSc in Psychology from the University of Central Lancashire in 2013, before undertaking different roles within Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CWP). I joined the First Steps team in October 2017 from CWP as a Research Assistant. I have been involved in coding and entering a variety of assessment and interview data, as well as helping with the day-to-day running of the study. I led data collection on the adolescent questionnaire survey waves, including setting up and managing the online questionnaire, processing all returned questionnaires, as well as speaking to study families to support them with completing the questionnaires. I am co-ordinating recruitment into the pilot “teencam” study.

Louise Fisher

I was a member of the Wirral Child Health and Development research team from 2010-2016, working on 5 different assessment phases with the children from ages 1 to 7. I also conducted interviews with mothers about their life experiences, stressors and mental health. I then worked for the NHS within a Psychological Therapies Service and have recently returned to the University of Liverpool as Research Assistant on a new project. This is the ESMI II research study, which is evaluating the effectiveness of Perinatal Mental Health Services in England. My role focuses around qualitative interviewing of mothers experiences of the service, the interviewing of their significant sources of support and of various practitioners around their roles and service provision. Part of the ESMI II study involved using some of the mother-infant interaction data gathered previously from the Wirral Child  Health & Development Study to develop an assessment tool for the NHS.

Jess Gay

I joined the First Steps study team as a volunteer in February 2019 after graduating with first class honours BSc in Psychology at The University of Liverpool. From July 2019 I worked on a mini-study funded by the National Institute of Health Research, which involved coding some of the First Steps early mother-infant interaction videos to produce an assessment tool for the NHS. I worked on the age 13 data collection wave contacting families to support their completion of questionnaires whilst completing the MSc in Research Methods at the University of Liverpool. I have loved every minute of working on the study and continue to collaborate with the First Steps team.

Stuart Kehl

I have been part of the ‘First Steps Study’ team now for 12 years. During this time, I have had the pleasure of completing assessments with the families when the kids were aged 1, 2½, 4½, 7 and 9 years of age. My role has included rating and scoring many different observational and psychometric measures as well as taking a lead in the recording of our psychophysiological measures and setting up the audio-visual equipment in the labs. Currently my role is more focused on managing the data we have collected. This includes linking with external groups for the sharing of data and meta-data as well as becoming more strongly involved with our partner study in Bangalore, India (BCHADS)

Alice Bond

I completed my BSc in Psychology at the University of Liverpool in 2022. My dissertation research involved working with WCHADS sister study, BCHADS, coding their mother-infant interaction data from age 6 months to examine associations with child cognitive and language development in toddlerhood. I officially joined the WCHADS team in April 2023 to carry out the research visits for the pilot “teencam” study. I will be visiting families to provide the instructions and materials for the study, be the point of contact for any queries whilst taking part, and collecting the cameras and dropping off thank you vouchers. I will also be involved in processing the returned video footage. I’m really excited to be involved in the teencam project and am looking forward to meeting some of the First Steps families!

Current Postgraduate Students

Callum Rutherford, PhD student, University of Liverpool

Previous Students: Kate Abbott, PhD awarded, IPHS, University of Liverpool; Matthew Bluett-Duncan PhD awarded, IPHS, University of Liverpool; Nik Darshane, PhD awarded, University of Cambridge; Carol Griz PhD awarded, IPHS, University of Liverpool; Fay Huntley, PhD awarded, University of Manchester; Helen Jones, PhD awarded, IPHS, University of Liverpool; Maurizio Manca, PhD awarded, Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool; Ruth Piccuci, Doctorate in Clinical Psychology awarded, University of Liverpool; Ruth Richman, MSc Research Methods, University of Liverpool; Abigail Manslow, MSc Research Methods, University of Liverpool; Kate Marks, PhD awarded, University of Manchester; Florin Tibu, PhD awarded, University of Manchester; Nicky Wright, PhD awarded, IPHS, University of Liverpool; Justine Kelly, Doctorate in Clinical Psychology awarded, University of Liverpool; Jenny Lee, Doctorate in Clinical Psychology awarded, University of Liverpool; Joanne Roberts, Doctorate in Clinical Psychology awarded, University of Liverpool.

We also wish to thank past team members who have helped so much to make the study a success

Study administration: Niki Sandman, Joanne Don, Rebecca Holmes, Liz Green, Karen Murphy, Lucy Delaney, Kerrie Breeze, Karen Rafferty and Kay Martin

Researchers: Rachael Bedford and Veri Pessoa

Research midwives: Karen Lunt, Carol Bedwell, Belinda Thompson

Adult interviewers: Fay Huntley, Kirsty Entwistle, Kate Marks, Gemma Culverwell, Nichaela Broyden, Holly Hope, Julie Carlisle and Gillian Fairclough

Infant assessors: Florin Tibu, Jeanette Appleton and Carol Sadler

Questionnaire phases: Melissa Bensinyor, Elaine Roy, Joanne Roberts and Jenny Lee

Parent and child phases: Alice Hulbert, Giovanna Morretto, Laura Davies , Megan McKenna, Louise Woolfall, Kate Abbott, Andrea Clark, Helen Chadwick, Sarah Hodson, Sarah Levy, Miriam Refberg-Brown and Ann Buckley

Research Health Visitors: Donna Yarlett, Louise Adams

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