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DECIPHer New Starter – Dr Sara Long

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After two years of linking with DECIPHer through a previous role in Public Health Wales NHS Trust, I am particularly excited to have started here. I have been attracted to DECIPHer ever since I came to public health in Wales, and I am delighted to be afforded this opportunity for several reasons.

Firstly, mine is a joint post between CASCADE and DECIPHer research centres. CASCADE specialises in research among vulnerable groups of children, particularly social care research. This post will involve drawing on some of the methodologies used at DECIPHer, and applying them to research in vulnerable groups of children. Children in care, in the criminal justice system, and children marginalised from school have some of the worst outcomes in society, and so I feel that improving outcomes among this group is hugely important. Prior to beginning my role at Cardiff University, in my two years at Public Health Wales I worked on a variety of projects, one of which included the link between adverse childhood experiences and health, social and educational outcomes in children. I am interested in how exposure to adversity in childhood impacts on such outcomes, and this post provides me with a great opportunity to explore this further.

Secondly, this collaborative post provides a fantastic opportunity to draw on the skills, expertise and networks of both centres and to work with social care colleagues in the National Centre for Population Health and Well Being Research in Wales.  DECIPHer is internationally recognised and, importantly, the centres’ success can be attributed to more than the sum of its parts. Some of the excellent work that goes on at DECIPHer can, at least in part, be attributed to its unique, supportive and dynamic culture. Although I am more familiar with DECIPHer, from what I have seen so far, both research centres have excellent teams and welcoming and supportive staff.

Thirdly, it is refreshing to see such innovative research from both centres having real impact. The idealist in me is inclined to think about what can be done to change a situation (intervention), rather than describing the situation (epidemiology). It’s clear that the nature of the work at both DECIPHer and CASCADE will provide me with an excellent opportunity to strengthen my skills in intervention research, and develop my understanding of this area with experience over time.

With regard to future plans, although not yet crystallised, I have begun to develop areas of interest: What are the risk and protective factors that mediate exposure to adversity/trauma in childhood and positive outcomes throughout the life course? Which risk and protective factors are amenable to intervention? What effective interventions are available? Importantly, the epidemiology is not strong in populations of vulnerable children in Wales. The epidemiology of a problem usually precedes intervention research; however, the epidemiology in this area needs to be developed, particularly in Wales. I have recently submitted an article using data from the School Health Research Network, comparing substance misuse and well-being outcomes among children in care versus children in private households. Within the paper we highlight some of the difficulties faced by children in care, and how stable relationships may contribute to positive outcomes.

Finally, I would like to thank all of the staff at DECIPHer and CASCADE for a very warm welcome. I am very grateful for this opportunity!