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Katy Smart

Katy Smart

Katy Smart

PhD CPsychol AFBPsS


Postdoctoral Researcher

Med, PhD. CPsychol, AFBPsS

  • Implementing and evaluating the Brain Story with families in Oxfordshire and beyond

I am a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Psychiatry working under the leadership of Professor Alan Stein. My primary research interests are parenting and child development.

My MEd and PhD were both awarded by the University of Bristol. My Master’s research investigated the social and educational effects of three different educational provisions on Year 10 and 11 teenage pregnancies.  My PhD research explored parents’ and trainers’ perceptions of the impact of parenting programmes by following 136 families through a total of 20 courses (Triple-P, Incredible Years and PEEP). The research questions investigated their views on the parenting programme process, parental behaviour changes taking place post-intervention and subsequent behavioural, developmental and/or educational impact on their children. This research formed the basis of my first book Parenting Programmes: What the Parents Say: A case study in mixed methods social science research (2020).

My current research relates to how experiences early in life and at other sensitive periods of development can affect our brains in ways that may impact our health as we grow older.  This knowledge has important implications for both policy and practice, but despite its significance the science behind early brain development is not widely disseminated, particularly to front line staff working with children and parents across health, education, social services and the criminal justice system.

The investigation focuses on developing a programme to explore and evaluate different ways of implementing the Brain Story to maximise its reach and impact.  In partnership with the Palix Foundation, we are working on a project across Oxfordshire and adjoining counties to engage policy-makers, practitioners and the public with the Brain Story (www.oxfordbrainstory.org).

The Brain Story is a narrative framework that shares key scientific knowledge about early brain development through tools, resources and a certification course, with the aim of building resilience in families and communities.

It is important that we understand how our early experiences shape our brains. The Brain Story is a community wide initiative that focuses on scientific understanding of the neuroscience of child development and its implication on lifelong physical and mental health. The Brain Story aims to articulate the intergenerational cycle of adversity within families, and how we can use our scientific understanding to improve outcomes for children and adults in the future.

My research interests have developed from over 30 years of working with children, young people and their families. I started my career in the early years first running a toddler group and then pre-schools. During this time, I also devised and delivered parenting programmes and taught the underpinning knowledge for NVQII & III in Childcare and Education. My passion for making a difference then led me to train as a primary school teacher before becoming a Parent Support, Extended Services and Children Centres Advisor supporting 78 schools and 14 children’s centres. Before my current position at the University of Oxford I was a Senior Teaching Associate at the University of Bristol. I have also been the editor of the BPS Psychology of Education Section’s journal since 2014.