Our research seeks to understand the biological and environmental aetiology, prevalence, and epidemiology of childhood development and mental health. Research conducted at the unit also focuses on clinical intervention and outcomes. At the Academic Unit of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychiatry Services (AUCS), we work closely with the community to facilitate integrated clinical and research activities, ensuring better outcomes for children from pregnancy through to the adolescence.

Our goals

Our goal is to transform local research and clinical practice while also addressing the key global health issue of neurodevelopmental and child mental health conditions delivering local action with a global impact.

    • First 2000 days: Through an NHMRC partnership grant, we’re evaluating an innovative digital tool for developmental surveillance by engaging parents using opportunistic contacts via GP clinics.
    • Watch Me Grow Electronic (WMG-E) platform:  Using a COVID-19 grant from NSW Health, we are implementing and evaluating the WMG-E platform in addressing child development, parental mental health needs, and social care needs in multicultural and rural communities.
    • CRESH-P (Childhood Responsive Equitable and Sustainable Health care Program): Through an MRFF grant, we are implementing and evaluating a tiered care model to improve earlier detection of children with developmental delay; increase access and engagement with early targeted intervention; improve health and social care for families via integrated hubs and Service Navigators among priority population groups (socioeconomically disadvantaged and culturally and linguistically diverse communities).
    • Autism Subtyping program:  In collaboration with the Autism Cooperative Research Centre grant, we are leading a research program involving six centres with special needs in Australia.
    • Consumer and Community consultation (CCI):  We’re working with young people from multicultural backgrounds to identify research priorities and deliver innovative solutions to child health and mental health issues through the Youth Advisory Council of Liverpool Boys and Girls Schools.
    • Physical Health in Mental Health:  In a Randomised Controlled Trial for young people with a neurodevelopmental disorder on antipsychotic medication, we’re piloting a medication optimisation, metabolic monitoring, and lifestyle intervention through the NHMRC Million Minds Grant, Growing Minds Australia, NHMRC clinical trials network in child and youth mental health.
    • National Perinatal and Infant Mental Health: Connect and Care program:  As part of the Perinatal Infant Mental Health - Emerging Priorities grant, we’re evaluating the Connect and Care program in conjunction with Karitane, the Australian Association of Parenting and Child Health (AAPCH), and the Parenting Research Centre.
    • NSW Government funded Safeguards program:  We’re providing support to the Ministry of Health in the development of the State-wide evaluation framework and conducting an in-depth evaluation of impact and implementation in South West Sydney Local Health District.
    • Tics and Tourette Syndrome: We are conducting a Clinical trial of Medicinal Cannabis, Integrated Cognitive Behavioural Intervention for Tics, a novel intervention for functional tic disorder, group CBIT for Tic disorders.
    • Policy work (NSW Health):  Review of evidence related to the implementation of the First 2000 Days Brighter Beginnings program and the implementation of the developmental checks and digital Blue Book program.
    • Policy work (National): Commonwealth Government and NDIS initiated Autism Policy and National Guideline for supporting the learning, participation, and wellbeing of autistic children in Australia.

Research strengths

Integration within clinical settings

  • Clinician involvement in research
  • Translation to practice
  • Research mentoring and support for clinicians

Engagement with consumers and community

  • Focus on voices of children and young people through co-design and participatory research.

Multidisciplinary collaboration with other research groups

  • Led the Early Life Determinants of Health (ELDoH) Clinical Academic Group under the Sydney Partnership for Health Education Research and Enterprise.
  • The Telethon Institute and the Origins study, Western Australia.
  • The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Centre for Community Child Health, Melbourne on a NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence on Childhood Adversity.

Our results

  • Watch Me Grow-Electronic (WMG-E) platform for empowering families to detect developmental problems early: https://ahra.org.au/2021/10/18/watch-me-grow-empowers-families-to-detect-developmental-problems-early/
  • Käld E et al (2022).  Exploring the modifiers for the effect of neurodevelopmental disorders on the risk of bullying victimization. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2792743. This study published in JAMA Paediatrics on understanding the risk factors will have significant impact on developing appropriate preventative strategies for bullying in the context of neurodevelopmental disorders.
  • Eapen V., Usherwood T. (2022). Assessing tics in children. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2021-069346 This invited review in The British Medical Journal will be a landmark paper for the assessment and management of tic disorders in children internationally.
  • Robertson MM*., Eapen V* et al (2017). Tourette Syndrome. A comprehensive review in Nature Reviews Disease Primer. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrdp201697
  • Baker JR., Silove D., Horswood D., Al-Shammari A., Mohsin M., Rees S., Eapen V (2021). PLOS Medicine 2021, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003512 - Longitudinal cohort study of refugee parent’s school engagement and children’s wellbeing involving 5 South West Sydney schools highlighting ‘sense of belonging’ to the school as a facilitator of acculturation. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003512
  • Masi A., Mendoza Diaz A., Tully L., Mendoza Diaz A., Azim S., Woolfenden S., Efron D., Eapen V. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1111/jpc.15285 -In a survey of over 300 caregivers of children with neurodevelopmental disability, 65% of children and 75% of parents reported adverse impact on their mental health and wellbeing; just 30% felt telehealth works for their children.
  • Hu N et al. (2022). The Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lanwpc.2021.100311 The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on paediatric health service use within one year after the first pandemic outbreak in New South Wales Australia – a time series analysis.

Our experts

Chair, Infant and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Valsamma Eapen
Chair, Infant and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Research Officers

Research Assistant

Project Coordinators and Research Nurses

Melissa Smead is the Murrumbidgee Local Health District Project Coordinator for the Watch me Grow – Electronic Research Project for Ingham Institute. Melissa has worked for NSW Health for the past 14 years, working in various Project Coordinator roles and in the Public Health Sector. Previously she worked with the MLHD Child and Family team rolling out the pilot focus on New Fathers Program in MLHD. Her education includes a Bachelor in Applied Management and a Post Graduate Certificate in Commerce. Melissa has been recently awarded with a 2021 Award for Excellence at Federation University.

Wendy Pickup is an experienced Registered Nurse/Midwife with 30 years’ experience working in several large Maternity units. Wendy completed a Diploma of Applied Science (Nursing) at The University of Western Sydney and a Graduate Diploma in Health Science (Midwifery) at The University of Sydney. During the last two years she completed Maternal, newborn and women’s Clinical Academic group Clinical Research Internship at UTS and has worked solely as a Research midwife/Project coordinator with AUCS and WHITU (Women’s Health Initiative Translation Unit).

Hayley Robinson is a Programme Manager at UNSW within the Discipline of Psychiatry & Mental Health working across projects focusing on a family hub integrated model of care. Hayley has international experience of developing family hubs and cultivating stakeholder partnerships. She has a particular interest in closing the gap between policy and practice through community led co-design and is passionate about early preventative care. She has worked across a number of youth mental health and workforce development programmes in the UK which took a trauma informed approach.

Tic Clinic

The UNSW Tic Clinic is currently running interventions for children and adolescents with primary tic disorders and functional tic disorders.

Tic Surf School

Tic Surf School (TSS) is a 10-session urge acceptance behavioural intervention for children and adolescents with a primary tic disorder including Tourette syndrome and Chronic Tic Disorders. There are two formats of the intervention: (a) TSS Group for children aged 8 to 12 years, delivered in a group format; and (b) TSS Individual for adolescents aged 8 to 17 years, delivered one-on-one by a trained psychologist.

The program aims to:

  • Increase the young person’s understanding of tics.
  • Build self-esteem and confidence about their tics.
  • Increase awareness of tics and tic urges.
  • Develop strategies to tolerate tic urges and to increase their control of their tics.
  • Increase understanding and strategies to manage environmental, emotional, and cognitive factors that increase tics and tics urges.

Integrated Cognitive Behavioural intervention for Functional Tics (I CBiT)

I-CBiT is a specialised treatment approach for managing functional tic-like behaviours in adolescents aged 12-17 years. This intervention combines traditional behavioural techniques used in tic management with third-wave cognitive behavioural therapies. This program is delivered one-on-one by a trained psychologist. Following the 10-week program young people are discharged back to local services for ongoing support.

The program aims to:

  • Increase the young person’s understanding of their diagnosis, possible reasons for developing tic symptoms and strategies to help.
  • Develop strategies to accept urges and control tic symptoms.
  • Increase understanding of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that may be contributing to tic symptoms, and strategies to help.
  • Work with family and school to support the young person and their treatment.

Relevant publications

Maxwell, A., Zouki, J.-J., & Eapen, V. (2023). Integrated cognitive behavioural intervention for functional tics (I-CBiT): case reports and treatment formulation. Frontiers in Paediatrics, 11. Doi 10.3389/fped.2023.1265123

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