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Elizabeth Rapa


Associate Professor

  • Communicating with children about their own or an important adult's illness
  • Implementation of the Brain Story
  • Co-Principal Investigator of AADAPT (Addressing Adolescents’ Depression And their ParenTing)

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. 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.

Currently we are developing a resource for healthcare professionals to facilitate family conversations when their adult patients are diagnosed with a serious illness (funded by NIHR). Th team are also exploring the experiences, attitudes and beliefs of UK Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities about talking to children about an adult's serious illness (funded by the John Fell Fund).

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).

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. AADAPT (Addressing Adolescents’ Depression And their ParenTing), funded by the Prudence Trust, aims to develop and test a fully integrated digital Behavioural Activation/Parenting Intervention App supported by peer mentors for adolescent parents (16-24 years). This intervention hopes to improve parental mental health, and enhance the parent-child relationship and children’s development.