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Louise Dalton

MA (Cantab) DClinPsych

Associate Professor & Consultant Clinical Psychologist

  • Communication with children about their own or an important adult's illness
  • Addressing Adolescents' Depression and their ParenTing (AADAPT)
  • Implementation and evaluation of the Brain Story

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 Elizabeth Rapa, is currently investigating: 

1. 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 pandemic, we 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).

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. With Dr Rapa, I am leading an NIHR-funded project to develop a training resource to support healthcare professionals feel confident to initiate conversations with their adult patients about what children within their family network know and understand about the adult's diagnosis. We are also exploring the views of UK Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities regarding communication with children about an adult's serious illness (funded by the John Fell fund).

2. Long term solutions for adolescent depression need to address early risk factors; parental depression is key for the development of later mental health problems in their children. The AADAPT study (funded by the Prudence Trust) aims to reduce depression in the next generation of adolescents by targeting depression in their parents. This project targets adolescent parents, as rates of depression in this group are three times higher than rates in adult mothers. Depression impacts directly on the young parents themselves and has a marked adverse effect on parenting and child outcomes. We are developing and testing a digital Behavioural Activation/Parenting Intervention, specifically tailored for adolescent parents and supported by Peer Mentors. This aims to improve adolescent parental mental health and enhance parent-child relationship and children’s development.

3. 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. We are working with front line staff across health, education, social services and the criminal justice system to share the Brain Story. In partnership with Kindred2 we embedded KS3 pupils with an understanding of why the early years of a child's life are so critical for long term health outcomes.