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Understanding the role of post-traumatic parental support for children

PhD student Victoria Williamson's research will help us understand parents' experiences of caring for a child after a traumatic event.

Victoria Williamson on University campus
Victoria Williamson is studying her PhD in Psychology

Victoria completed her undergraduate degree in our Department of Psychology in 2013. She is now working towards her PhD Research Programme in Psychology.

Conducting research in South Africa

Victoria has conducted three studies as part of her research and conducted further data collection at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

'The opportunity to conduct research and collect data at Stellenbosch has helped my research as I have been able to examine how parents respond to and support their children in a low-resource environment with extremely high rates of community violence.'

The study that she conducted allows for a deeper and wider understanding of how parents in a non-Western context care for their children following a trauma.

'Being able to travel to Stellenbosch has helped me as a young researcher by consolidating links with other researchers with similar interests. This has led to additional collaborations, including a study investigating parents’ perceptions of HIV vaccination trials.'

As well as her research at Stellenbosch, Victoria is working with Dr Sarah Halligan and other researchers from the Department of Psychology as part of a larger project. Funded by the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC), they are working with regional hospital emergency departments and child and adolescent mental health services in the UK.

Parental support for childhood trauma

Traumatic experiences, such as interpersonal violence or serious road traffic accidents, affect a large number of children in the UK.

For some, these experiences can lead to the development of psychological difficulties. Parents are usually the main source of support for children following a traumatic event. However, little is known about how parents experience providing such support to their children.

Victoria’s interest in parents’ experiences of supporting their child post-trauma came from the awareness that it can take a considerable amount of time for some children to get psychological treatment after a trauma.

'It can take several months for some children to be referred to a clinician for specialist care, so it is important to understand how parents care for their children after a trauma and if there is any additional support parents feel they need. I wanted to learn more about this and see how my skills as a researcher could help.'

Building skills and supporting the local community

Alongside her research, Victoria has been helping the local community by working as a volunteer for Bath Mind and the Bath Child Contact Centre.

'I’ve spent four years at the Bath Child Contact Centre. I help to facilitate sessions where children, whose parents are separated, can spend time with their non-custodial parent. It’s a challenging role to stay neutral but also be helpful in complex and emotionally-charged situations. We know that it’s important for children to bond with both of their parents and I find this work really worthwhile.'

Victoria has also found the training for research students particularly helpful.

'While at Bath and Reading I have found the public engagement and media training workshops most helpful. Sharing my research findings with the public is something I’m interested in and these workshops are really worthwhile.'

Next steps for a young researcher

Victoria is focused on writing up her thesis over the coming months.

'After I have completed, I would like to expand on the research I’ve done so far looking at how parents support their children after a traumatic event.'

‘Being able to travel to Stellenbosch has helped me as a young researcher and led to additional collaborations.’
Victoria Williamson PhD Psychology

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