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Funded PhD Opportunity

Overcoming Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s): A Pilot trial of a whole school trauma informed approach to build resilience in children, parents and teachers.

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience



Existing literature about the impact of ACE ‘s has received global attention, and there is a wealth of evidence to indicate that having 4 or more ACE’s out of a possible 10, can have very severe and far reaching consequences for that child’s life which is said to last throughout the life course (Gilbert, et al., 2010). ACE’s are linked with mental health problems in childhood, which can cause significant and immediate distress and impairment, for example, on social relationships, school, occupational attainment, and physical health (Dvir et al, 2014), as well as self-esteem, behaviour, attendance at school, educational achievement, social connectedness and quality of health (Rao, et al. 2001). In NI, there are known transgenerational impacts arising from the NI conflict, where parents and their children are impacted by multiple ACE’s, and hence it was indicated that such co-occurring childhood adversities should be considered when planning treatment, prevention, and intervention programmes (McClafferty, Armour et al. 2017).

Recent meta-analyses highlight the benefits of a range of school based prevention strategies, appraising their ability to improve skills, positive attitudes, pro-social behaviour and academic performance (Taylor, Oberle, Durlak, & Weissberg, 2017) and their potential to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression (Werner-Seidler, Perry, Calear, Newby, & Christensen, 2017).  However, authors recommend a whole school universal approach, one that targets whole populations or groups of adolescents not just those identified as having or being at-risk of mental health problems (Weisz, Sandler, Durlak & Anton 2005); creating a culture of coping in the wider community, where pupils are helped to build on skills to increase their mental wellbeing and therefore be less susceptible to anxiety, depression, and suicide (Protecting Life in Schools, 2016).

One such whole school approach is www.trauma, where the adults in the school community are prepared to recognise and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress (including administrators, teachers, staff, parents etc). In addition, students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to guide them through stressful situations. The goal is to not only provide tools to cope with extreme situations but to create an underlying culture of respect and support.


The aim of this project is to develop a model of good practice whereby a whole school, trauma informed approach is piloted in one school in NI. The need will be identified by determining the prevalence of ACE’s in a school within a deprived area (via the parents) and understanding their impact on mental health and educational outcomes for children. The pilot aims to combine trauma sensitive approaches delivered by the teachers, and hopeful minds delivered to the pupils. As the proposal aims to adopt a ‘whole school model’, it will also seek to support resilience building amongst the teachers and parents via psychoeducation.


The objectives are threefold 1) identify prevalence of ACES and consequential mental health outcomes in one school 2) build resilience in the parents and teachers 3) pilot a trauma sensitive intervention combined with hopeful minds to the children.

Method and Design:

Wave 1: Cross Sectional/Longitudinal survey (to determine prevalence, predictors and impact of ACES)

Wave 2: Pilot intervention for teachers (Psycho-education) parents (psychoeducation), and children (curriculum based intervention).

Setting and sample:

Collaboration with One Post Primary School in a recognised deprived area. Sample Parents, Pupils and Teachers of that school.


Data collection from parents (ACES) and their children (mental health outcomes/resilience etc) follow up academic variables. Implement pilot interventions and evaluate against mental health outcomes.


Significant change noted in mental health outcomes of the children, more positive behaviours (reduced suspensions, increased attendance, improved academic attainment).

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.

Funded by the Institute of Mental Health Sciences

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Thursday 18 October 2018

Interview Date
To be confirmed

Contact supervisor

Dr Karen Kirby

Other supervisors


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