Funded PhD Opportunity Children’s attachment and self-concept in Northern Irish intercountry adoption

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience


Intercountry adoption, i.e. adoption outside of the United Kingdom, has been occurring in Northern Ireland since the end of the Second World War, with different waves of adoption occurring following the Korean and Vietnam wars, in addition to the period following the downfall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania in the late 1980s.  Many adoptions also take place from China, largely reflecting the one-child policy that commenced in the early 1980s and only ended in 2013. It is estimated that up to 150 intercountry adoptions have taken place in Northern Ireland in the last decade, and from a range of different countries.

However, there has been no research to date within Northern Ireland examining the health and wellbeing of the adoptive parents and/or the children.  This is of particularly concern given that the research base outside of Northern Ireland would indicate that the health of these children can be quite poor when an adoption commences, due to poor life experiences such as being raised initially in an institutional setting, or suffering harm in utero due to parental substance abuse.

The proposed study would be part of a larger new programme of work aimed to address the current level of deficit in our knowledge base for this type of adoption, and from a Northern Irish perspective. Although there are large gaps in our knowledge regarding the health and well-being of intercountry adoptive families in Northern Ireland, Dr McSherry’s research programme has provided a wealth of knowledge in relation to domestic adoptive families in Northern Ireland, i.e. where the child has been adopted from the care system due the inability/incapacity of the birth parents to provide adequate parenting to the child.

A key source of this information has been the longitudinal ‘Care Pathways and Outcomes Study’, which Dr McSherry has led since 2003.  This has been tracking a population of children (n=374) who were under the age of five and in care in Northern Ireland on the 31st March 2000. The third wave of the study examined the health and well-being of a sub-sample of the children, and their parents.  The children were aged nine to 14 years.  Twenty of these children had been adopted.

The children’s attachment to their parents, and their own self-concept were examined during face-to-face interviews using the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA) (Armsden & Greenberg, 1989) and the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale (Piers & Herzberg, 2002).  These findings have been published (McSherry et al., 2013; McSherry et al., 2016).

The current proposal is to recruit a sample of 20 young people living in Northern Ireland, aged approximately 9 to 14 years, who have been adopted from overseas, and apply the IPPA and Piers-Harris measures, so as to begin to build a baseline profile of the health and wellbeing of these young people, and in comparative terms with young people who have been adopted domestically.  This would have implications for policy and practice in this area of work, particularly in terms of the provision of support services to adoptive families.

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
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • 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.

  • Masters at 65%
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
11-29 March 2019


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
Our coastal and riverside campus focussing on science and health

Contact Supervisor

Dr Dominic McSherry

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Visit and quote reference number #342355 when applying for this PhD opportunity