Wirral Child Health and Development Study: First Steps

How is the study progressing?

We successfully recruited 1286 first time mothers, partners and babies during pregnancy and are now following the families until the children reach 9 years of age. We plan to continue following the families into later childhood but we will have to apply for further funding to do this and of course each family will be asked if they are happy to continue taking part. It is important to say that many children in the study will develop without emotional or behavioural difficulties, some will have transient difficulties and some will have problematic behaviours or emotional difficulties that persist over time. It is important to study all of these children.

We have followed all of the families and have asked for information from each family on seven occasions from pregnancy to age 7 years (20 weeks of pregnancy, birth records, 9-12 weeks old, 14 months old, 3½ years, 4½-5 years and 7 years of age). The whole sample is known as the “extensive sample”. We have asked for information from partners on five occasions also. We are currently carrying out the age 9 assessments for the extensive sample, which includes a visit to the Lauries centre for the mother and child (child assessment and questionnaire for mothers) and we are also gathering information from partners and teachers at this phase too.

In addition, during late pregnancy a sub-group of just over 300 mothers reporting differing levels of stress during pregnancy agreed to tell us about their lives in even more detail. This sub-group is called the “intensive sample”. So far these mothers have completed detailed interviews about their lives and have let us observe their children at additional time points to assess their emotional, physiological, behavioural, and cognitive (mental) development in our child development lab at the study base in the Lauries Centre, Birkenhead. These times were at 4 weeks, 7 months, 14 months, 2½ years, 4½ - 5 years and 7 years of age. Most families in this intensive part of the study will have now completed twelve sets of assessments in total since pregnancy by the time their child started school. We are currently carrying out the age 9 assessments for the intensive sample, which is carried out at the study base and is a more detailed child assessment as well as an interview and questionnaires for the mothers. Information is also collected from partners and teachers.

Gathering information from multiple people is important for scientific research as findings are always much stronger when based on reports from several different people. Children can behave differently in different settings, such as at school where things are often more structured than life at home and this can be challenging. It’s important to know how this affects children.

See the newsletter section for more information on previous assessment phases (link to: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/psychology-health-and-society/research/first-steps/newsletters/)

We have published various findings in scientific journals and they are all available on our publications page (link to: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/psychology-health-and-society/research/first-steps/publications/).

The timeline below briefly summarises the research plan of the study from 20 weeks up to age 7. We are currently carrying out the age 9 assessments.