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The impact of social context and group process in engagement with and outcomes from an attachment-based group parenting intervention for mothers experiencing psychological stress

Project Description

Group-based parenting interventions for preschool children with behavioural problems can be highly effective and cost-effective in preventing later conduct disorders, but such programmes have not been shown to be effective with younger children, where enhancing parental sensitivity is likely to be a more appropriate therapeutic aim than improving behaviour management. Our meta-analysis of the impact of the Mellow Parenting programmes showed medium effects on maternal wellbeing and child behaviour problems, but there was a degree of heterogeneity and methodological weakness amongst the included studies. Our new Mellow Babies Trial aims to establish if participating in a 14-week attachment-based group parenting intervention is beneficial to participating mothers and their babies. The main outcome of the trial is maternal mental health at follow-up, and several secondary outcomes, including child development indicators, will be assessed. There is a planned qualitative component to the trial which will allow us to better understand mechanisms underlying trial outcomes, including why the intervention may be more amenable / effective for some participants than others.

One area we are keen to elaborate is the nature of the group process, core to the ethos of Mellow Babies. For example, the group facilitators meet with the participants 3-4 times before the group programme begins to prepare them for participation in the group, the group facilitators act as equal members of the group (facilitators rather than experts), the group is closed so no new members join during the 14 weeks. This PhD will explore, through semi-structured interviews and possibly some observation work, how this plays out in practice and how participants engage with the process.

Another area this PhD will help elucidate is the role (or potential role) of fathers / mothers’ partners in Mellow Babies (where only mothers actively participate). There is a growing literature on the role of fathers in parenting interventions, largely with a move to be more inclusive of fathers / partners. As Mellow Babies groups are always single-gender (and in the case of this trial, mothers only), there is a need to explore what impact the exclusion of the father / partner may have on the effectiveness of the intervention.

Lucy Thompson has successfully supervised two PhDs, one as primary and one as secondary supervisor. In both cases this was in partnership with Philip Wilson, who has also successfully supervised a further 3 PhDs as primary supervisor. He also has 1 PhD student about to be examined (primary) and has 2 ongoing (one primary, one secondary). All students have finished on time and their theses required only minor amendments. Together we have a good history of working together to supervise both students and staff on a range of research projects and have received positive feedback on our approach to joint supervision. Danny Wight is one of the co-investigators on the Mellow Babies Trial and is the lead investigator on the qualitative process evaluation. He co-authored the MRC process evaluation guidelines and has extensive experience of successfully supervising qualitative theses.

This studentship will require an applicant with a strong qualitative research background in health science, health psychology, or social science. Experience of working with families with complex backgrounds (e.g., mental health problems, substance misuse issues, intra-familial violence, criminal justice involvement, child protection concerns), and a genuine interest in parenting support and child development would be advantageous.

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of APPLIED HEALTH SCIENCE. Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Health Science, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing.


Candidates should contact the lead supervisor to discuss the project in advance of submitting an application, as supervisors will be expected to provide a letter of support for suitable applicants. Candidates will be informed after the application deadline if they have been shortlisted for interview.

Funding Notes

This project is part of a competition funded by the Institute of Applied Health Sciences. Full funding is available to UK/EU candidates only. Overseas candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £15,680 per annum).

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a First Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.

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