IHD People & News

Intervention offering relationship-focused group work for parents recognised by the Children & Young People Now Awards

The Parents as Partners programme, a group-based approach to strengthening parental couple relationships and  family life, was named the 'Best Family Support Intervention' at the Children & Young People Now awards ceremony last night at the Lancaster Hotel, London.

The award recognised the work of Tavistock Relationships’ DWP-funded programme to parents which has reached over 600 parents across multiple sites in London, Manchester, Stockport, Croydon, Gateshead and Swansea.

The programme, which originated in the US, developed by Professors Phil and Carolyn Cowan along with their colleagues Professors Marsha Kline Pruett and Kyle Pruett, is inspired by research that shows parental relationships and the way couples communicate have a major impact on effective parenting and the wellbeing of children. Evaluation of the Parents as Partners programme by Tavistock Relationships, published this year in the journal Family Process, has shown it to be effective across a number of domains.  Results of delivery so far have produced significant:

  • improvement in the quality of the parents' relationship with each other
  • reduction in conflict between the parents (including disagreements about money, the children, time spent together), with the greatest improvements in poor quality, high conflict relationships;
  • reduction in violent problem-solving between the parents;
  • improvement in psychological wellbeing;
  • reduction in children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties

Members of the team were received the award in person at the event.  Tavistock Relationships’ Parents as Partners programme was the overall winner in the category of Family Support interventions, with the NSPCC’s Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together programme being highly commended. The Parents as Partners Programme leader, Lucy Draper said:

“It’s fantastic to see the years of work we have put in recognised in this way, and we are very grateful to receive this award.  Of course, what has sustained our work over the years is the pleasure of seeing the changes we make to the lives of parents and families. As group workers. we witness the often challenging journey so many parents make from the initial step of seeking support to the point of leaving the group, with new tools and ways of thinking about their relationships. The difference that parents tell us it has made, to their relationship with each other and with their children, is the greatest reward for our team.”

Posted on February 26, 2018

Hey Siri, an ancient algorithm may help you grasp metaphors

“The use of concrete language to talk about abstract ideas may unlock mysteries about how we are able to communicate and conceptualize things we can never see or touch,” said study senior author Mahesh Srinivasan, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. “Our results may also pave the way for future advances in artificial intelligence.”

Posted on July 6, 2017

Puberty hormones trigger changes in youthful learning

UC Berkeley study of mice reveals, for the first time, how puberty hormones might impede some aspects of flexible youthful learning.

Study finds puberty hormones trigger changes in the developing frontal brain

“We have found that the onset of puberty hits something like a ‘switch’ in the brain’s frontal cortex that can reduce flexibility in some forms of learning,” said study senior author Linda Wilbrecht, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley.

While gleaned from young female mice, the findings, published in the June 1 issue of the journal Current Biology, may have broad educational and health implications for girls, many of whom are entering the first stage of puberty as young as age 7 and 8.

“Puberty onset is occurring earlier and earlier in girls in modern urban settings – driven by such factors as stress and the obesity epidemic – and has been associated with worse outcomes in terms of school and mental health,” said Wilbrecht, a researcher at the campus’s Center on the Developing Adolescent.

Wilbrecht and her laboratory team at UC Berkeley and UCSF discovered significant changes in neural communication in the frontal cortices of female mice after they were exposed to pubertal hormones. The changes occurred in a region of the frontal brain that is associated with learning, attention and behavioral regulation.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first to demonstrate changes in cortical neurotransmission due to hormones at puberty,” said study lead author David Piekarski, a post-doctoral researcher in Wilbrecht’s lab.

Overall, children have been found to have greater brain flexibility or “plasticity” than adults, enabling them to more easily master multiple languages and other elementary scholastic pursuits.

While they continue to learn after puberty, their cognitive focus in adolescence is often redirected to peer relationships and more social learning. If hormonal changes start as early as second or third grade, when children are tasked with learning basic skills, a shift in brain function could be problematic, Wilbrecht said.

“We should be more thoughtful about aligning what we know about biology and education to accommodate the fact that many girls’ brains are shifting to this adolescent phase earlier than expected,” she said.

Pre-puberty mice found to be better at exploratory learning than post-pubertal mice (Photo by Jon Wilbrecht)

For the study, researchers induced puberty in some young female mice by injecting them with pubertal hormones such as estradiol and progesterone, and blocked puberty in others by removing their ovaries.

In measuring the electrical activity of brain cells in the frontal cortices of post-pubertal mice, they observed significant changes in the synaptic activity thought to regulate brain plasticity.

They also compared the higher-order learning strategies of pre-pubertal and post-pubertal mice by testing their ability to find Cheerios hidden in bowls of wooden shavings scented with licorice, clove, thyme or lemon.

After each mouse figured out which scent was paired with the Cheerio, that pairing was changed so the mice had to use trial and error to adapt to the change and learn the new rule.

Overall, researchers found that the post-pubertal mice had a harder time adapting to the rule changes than their pre-pubertal counterparts.

“These data demonstrate that puberty itself, not just age, plays a role in frontal cortex maturation,” the study concluded.

The study notes that future studies on males will be needed to determine if the present results apply to the male brain.

Josiah Boivin, a graduate student at UCSF, is a co-author on the study.

Posted on June 5, 2017

Free Play or Flashcards? New Study Nods to More Rigorous Preschools

Bruce Fuller, lead author of study, finds that preschool programs dividing time between free play with literacy and math education can boost early learning for the aveage child nationwide.

Posted on May 30, 2017

Scientists tap the smarts of mice, capture problem-solving in action

Study by lead author Linda Wilbrecht shows rapid rewiring in the frontal brains of mice by capturing images of problem solving in action.

Posted on March 8, 2016