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Funded PhD Opportunity

Placement disruption and instability in relation to outcomes for looked after children

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience


In addition to the essential criteria noted below, the Degree (or equivalent) qualification must be in Psychology or a closely related discipline. We will accept applications from candidates who are about to hold

* a minimum of and Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree in Psychology or closely related discipline (or overseas award deemed equivalent via UK NARIC) .

* An additional Desirable criteria that may be applied is holding, being about to hold, a Master's level qualification in Psychology or a closely related discipline.

*You must provide official, final results of qualifications used to meet the academic requirements before the start of the studentship

There are currently over 3,000 children in care in NI. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child; Article 20.3 (1995) states “when a child is placed out of home, due regard shall be paid to the desirability of continuity in a child’s upbringing”. Placement disruption is associated with negative short and long term outcomes for the child, and being moved multiple times to different placements has been associated with elevated risk of further negative outcomes (Cook, 1994; Penzerro & Lein, 1995; Piliavin, Sosin, Westerfelt, & Matsueda, 1992).

For these already vulnerable children, most of whom have previously been exposed to varying degrees of abuse and neglect to be placed in what is sometimes an insecure and unstable environment, may be argued as inevitable since it is generally accepted that looked after children are at greater risk of negative emotional and mental health outcomes (Meltzer et al. 2003). It has long been accepted that children in care are at increased risk on negative behavioural and psychological outcomes, (Iwaniec, 2006; p6). Indeed, almost half of this vulnerable group have some form of mental health disorder and for those in residential care settings this may be as high as 72% of children (Hunt, L. 2011).

These mental health problems can take the form of internalising psychopathologies such as depression and anxiety, or externalising psychopathologies such as aggression, drug and alcohol problems and criminal behaviours. Social exclusion as a consequence of multiple moves in care environment has also been linked to problems such as unemployment, criminal and antisocial behaviours, and ill-health. Indeed the UK Joint Working Party on Foster Care (1999) state, “looked after children are 4 times more likely to be unemployed and 60 times more likely to be sent to prison”. It has also been noted that approximately one third of female inmates in UK prisons have been in the care system at some point in their childhood. (HM chief inspector of prisons, 1997).

Of particular interest is the number of disruptions in care placements and the potential of associated cumulative effects, the more displacements experienced the more elevated symptomology of negative outcomes. The disruption of multiple placements may impact a child’s ability to trust and form attachment relationships to the adults responsible for their care, (Newton et al. 2000). Given what is known about attachment theory, this disrupted home life may have dire consequences. Indeed, multiple disruption may impact both psychological functioning and physical wellbeing as these changes mean a child repeatedly having to adjust to a new school and make new friends, form new social networks, adapt to a new house with new rules and new carers. (Goodman 2000). Proch and Taber (1985) state this is developmentally disruptive for a child.

This project will explore the relationship between placement type and number of disruptions and behavioural and psychological outcomes using existing longitudinal datasets.

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


    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.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 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.

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
Monday 18 February 2019

Interview Date
w/c 11 March 2019


Coleraine campus

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

Contact supervisor

Dr Marian McLaughlin

Other supervisors


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