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Elizabeth Rapa


Senior Post Doctoral Researcher

  • Principal Investigator of the SEEN Project
  • Implementation of the Brain Story
  • Research focused on communicating with children about their own or an important adult's illness

Under the leadership of Professor Alan Stein, we elucidate the key mechanisms underpinning child development including the intergenerational transmission of difficulties in the context of adversity.

My research group, which I co-lead with Dr Louise Dalton, is currently investigating: 

1. Embedding KS3 pupils with an understanding of why the early years of a child's life are critical for long term mental and physical health; the SEEN project in partnership with Kindred2

2. The Oxford Brain Story, in partnership with the Palix Foundation, are working on a UK wide project to engage policy-makers, practitioners and the public with the Brain Story. The Brain Story is a narrative framework that shares key scientific knowledge about early brain development through tools, resources and a certification course. It articulates 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. Our team is developing a programme to explore and evaluate different ways of implementing the Brain Story to maximise its reach and impact. 

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.

3. Effective communication with children about their own or an important adult's illness. Previous studies across the globe have highlighted the importance of communication with children and families, and the impact that telling, or not telling, has on both the patient and their family. Effective communication has been associated with better psychological outcomes, as well as improved treatment adherence and disease progression.

In response to the current pandemic, we have developed free resources which can be found here including: 

i) A guide for healthcare workers who need to inform families by telephone that a relative has died of COVID-19. A key part of this is to identify if the deceased was a parent.

ii) A guide to support caregivers with the unenviable task of telling children of an adult’s death (e.g. parent or grandparent).

However, communication about such sensitive and distressing circumstances is  emotionally challenging, not only for children and parents, but also the healthcare professionals who undertake this important task.