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The TOPIC Research Group is focused on optimising psychological interventions for the prevention and treatment of common mental health problems in children and adolescents.

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Our Focus

Improving outcomes from psychological interventions for children and adolescents:

  • Identifying key psychological mechanisms

  • Increasing engagement and acceptability

  • Reducing inadvertent harms from interventions.

Improving access to effective psychological interventions:

  • Developing and testing screening approaches

  • Increasing efficiency of interventions.

Our Approach

To maximise the impact and effectiveness of our research, we work closely with a diverse range of partners including:

  • Children, adolescents, and their parents/carers
  • Schools
  • Health and social care providers
  • Voluntary and community sector organisations
  • Industry partners
  • Policy makers.

We share our protocols, data, and code where possible, using sits including Prospero, OSF, and the UK Data Service.

Our Methods

We use a broad range of methods including:

  • Co-design approaches
  • Qualitative research
  • Experimental studies
  • Systematic reviews and meta-analyses
  • Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies
  • Clinical studies, including case series, feasibility, and pilot trials
  • Randomised controlled trials.

Check out our video introducing who we are and what we do

Research Studies within the TOPIC group:

1. Theme name: Adolescent anxiety disorders 

Research Lead: Polly Waite

We are conducting research on the development, maintenance and psychological treatment of anxiety disorders in adolescents. The majority of treatment trials for anxiety disorders in children and young people have either not included adolescents or include them in relatively small numbers and therefore our research focuses on identifying key maintenance factors within this age group in order to ultimately develop targeted, developmentally appropriate treatments with optimal outcomes. The research uses a broad range of methods (including experimental and qualitative methods, clinical trials and systematic reviews), with adolescents from both clinical and community settings (such as schools).

2. Project name: Emerging Minds

Chief Investigator: Cathy Creswell
Network Manager: Emily Lloyd
Communications and Administrative Assistant: Heather Dyer

Emerging Minds is a research network that aims to reduce the prevalence of mental health problems experienced by children and young people. Our members are particularly focused on mental health promotion, prevention and early treatment of mental health problems.  We offer funding for research along with cross-sector placements for researchers, training and networking events. 

We are working across sectors and disciplines to tackle 4 research challenges. Our research challenges have been developed in partnership with young people, their families, practitioners and policy makers. 

3. Project name: Co-SPACE - COVID-19: Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children during Epidemics

Chief Investigators: Polly Waite , Cathy Creswell  and Simona Skripkauskaite
Postdoctoral researchers:Ning Ding
Research Assistant: Lowrie Burgess

The Co-SPACE study tracked children and young people’s mental health throughout the COVID-19 crisis, with parents and young people completing monthly follow-up surveys between March 2020 and July 2021. Individual interviews were also conducted with parents, young people, and stakeholders to gain greater insight into their experiences. The Co-SPACE study will examine the longer-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on parent and child mental health through follow-up surveys administered to parents in March 2022, November 2022 and March 2023. The Co-SPACE study will tell us how families coped during the COVID-19 pandemic, what parents can do to help support their children’s mental health, and what support families might need going forward.

 4. Project name: SPARKLE  - Supporting Parents and Kids through Lockdown Experiences

Chief Investigator: Edmund Sonuga-Barke
Research Assistants: Olly Robertson

The SPARKLE study is a rapid deployment randomised controlled trial evaluating whether a digital public health parenting intervention delivered to parents of children aged 4-10 years taking part in the Co-SPACE project can improve wellbeing within family and reduce pressures on services.

5. Project name: Co-Ray - Evidence based mental health and wellbeing Resources made for And by Young people in the COVID-19 context

Chief Investigator: Cathy Creswell
Research Lead: Emily Lloyd
Postdoctoral researcher: Rebecca Watson
Research Assistant: Lowrie Burgess

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused extensive disruption and challenges within the lives of young people. The Co-RAY project, funded by the UKRI Medical Research Council and the Westminster Foundation, aims to support young people’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those aged 11 – 16 years. We will be making sense of what research says young people are finding difficult during this time and working closely with young people throughout the project to hear what they would find most helpful to support their mental health. Based on what research says and what young people aged 11 – 16 years think are the priorities, we will develop and share helpful resources. We will make sure young people can easily access useful resources that are already available, as well as working closely with partner organisations (i.e. Headliners UK, Fully Focused Productions) to enable young people to produce new resources (such as films, illustrations, blogs) to support other young people’s mental health.

6. Project name: iCATS-i2i - identifying Child Anxiety Through Schools-identification to intervention

Investigator: Cathy Creswell
Research Lead: Tessa Reardon
Trial Manager: Lucy Taylor
Postdoctoral researcher:  Victoria Williamson 
Well-being practitioner: Iheoma Green, Ciara Hennigan
Research Assistants: Jeni Fisk, Emily DayOlly Robertson

iCATS-i2i is a research project, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). Anxiety problems are common in children, but many children with anxiety problems don't receive support.  It can be hard to identify anxiety problems in children, and make judgements about whether a child may benefit from support or not. Families also face difficulties accessing support. Our aim is to develop and evaluate a new way of identifying children with anxiety problems and providing these children with effective support, through primary schools. We are currently looking for primary schools in England with at least 2 classes in Years 4-6 to work with us on the first part of this groundbreaking project. ​Want to find out more?  Please get in touch with the iCATS-i2i Team.

7.  Project name: MY-CATS – Minimising Young Children’s Anxiety Through Schools

Chief Investigator: Cathy Creswell
Research Lead: Tessa Reardon
Trial Manager: Anna Placzek
Clinical Psychologist: Gemma Halliday
Postdoctoral researcher:  Samantha Pearcey
Well-being practitioners: Ruth Potts, Lindsey Martineau, Tamatha Weisser, Joshua Wright
Research Assistants:  Chloe Hooper, Beth HindhaughLaura Hankey
Research Administrator: Amy McCall

MY-CATS is a research project which aims to evaluate the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of systematic screening for children (aged 4-7) at risk for anxiety disorders, on the basis of one or more risks, and provision of an online intervention to parents. 

We are adapting our existing online intervention for parents of children aged 4-7 who are at risk of developing anxiety problems, and we will then test it out in a large cluster randomised controlled trial involving 60 primary schools. The project involves parents completing questionnaires to help identify which children may be most likely to benefit from support. Where responses suggest the child is at risk of developing anxiety problems and may be most likely to benefit from support, parents in 30 ‘intervention’ schools will be offered an online intervention with telephone support from a wellbeing practitioner, and parents in 30 ‘control’ schools will not be offered the intervention. The intervention is designed to help parents encourage their child to build confidence and minimise problems with anxiety by providing them with skills and strategies for now and in the future.  We will compare outcomes for families who are and are not offered the intervention and assess whether it is good value for money. We will also look at characteristics of families who do and do not benefit, and what helps the intervention to work.

8. Project name: Co-CAT - Child Anxiety Treatment in the context of COVID-19 

Chief Investigator: Cathy Creswell
Research Lead: Lucy Taylor
Research Assistants: Emma Brooks, Lucy Radley, Emily Whitaker

Child Anxiety Treatment in the context of COVID-19 (Co-CAT) is a randomised controlled trial exploring the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of a novel online parent-led intervention for child anxiety disorders, funded by UKRI/NIHR. The trial involves working with child and adolescent mental health service teams across the country to recruit 560 children (aged 5-12 years) and their parents/carers where the child has a primary anxiety problem. After completed online baseline assessments, families are randomised to receive either an online parent led psychological intervention with therapist support throughout (OSI+therapist support) or treatment as usual (in the COVID-19 context). Families will also complete online assessments 16 and 24 weeks later. A subsample of parents and clinicians will be invited to take part in qualitative interviews.

9. Project name: Incubator for Mental Health Research

Chief Investigator: Cathy Creswell
Communications and Administrative Manager: Beatrice Shelley

The incubator for mental health research is one of a series of incubators established by the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) to build research capacity in priority areas. It is led by Professor Cathy Creswell and has been created to increase capacity in mental health research. This website offers advice to aspiring researchers in mental health through case studies, training and funding opportunities, and offers tips.

10. Project name: Learning from the trajectories of mental health challenges for children, young people and parents across Japan and the UK over the course of COVID-19

Chief Investigators: Simona Skripkauskaite and Naho Morasaki

This collaboration between the University of Oxford and the National Center for Child Health and Development (NCCHD) in Japan aims to compare the mental health of parents, adolescents and children across the two countries during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Co-SPACE study will examine the longer-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on parent and child mental health through follow-up surveys administered to parents in March 2022, November 2022 and March 2023. The Co-SPACE study will tell us how families coped during the COVID-19 pandemic, what parents can do to help support their children’s mental health, and what support families might need going forward.

Research Administrator for the TOPIC group: Katie Fletcher

DPhil Students

Helen Manley -  2nd year DPhil student researching the role of primary school teachers in supporting and managing anxiety in children. Helen is investigating whether the way in which teachers manage their classrooms day-to-day can have positive effects on anxiety. Her project aims to develop and assess the feasibility of a classroom management training intervention designed to help teachers respond to, and ultimately reduce, anxiety in primary school-aged children. Helen's DPhil is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration Oxford and Thames Valley at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. 

En-Nien Tu -  2nd year DPhil student focusing on developing early intervention strategies for genetically high-risk offspring of bipolar disorder to improve their developmental trajectories and clinical outcomes. His project aims to develop a parent-led intervention to help parents with bipolar disorder help their children cope with their anxiety disorder, which is an important prodrome before the onset of bipolar disorder.

Layla Rashid - is an MSc student in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. Layla’s work is funded by the 1+3 ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Programme. Her work in the TOPIC Research Group and oRANGE lab focuses on exploring the relationship between child adversity and the impact this has on later psychopathology. Her research integrates methods from social epidemiology, clinical and developmental psychology to guide and adapt treatment interventions by identifying protective factors that promote positive psychopathology among vulnerable and at-risk populations.  

Siyu Zhou

Carolina Guzman Holst

Jenifer Wild

Our team

Selected publications

Related research themes