Seminal Projects…

Helen has led four influential programs of research.

Body image during pregnancy and the postpartum

Helen is regarded internationally as the pre-eminent perinatal body image researcher who has generated new knowledge in this area since 2003. She was the first to conduct a longitudinal study and report on prospective body image changes through pregnancy and the 12 months post birth (n = 479 women), contributing a major advance in body image theory development and in our understanding of modifiable psychosocial factors related to body dissatisfaction during the ante- and postnatal periods.

Her work in this area has been published in over 80 peer reviewed papers. She has worked with Briony and Heidi Bergmeier in this area. One of Briony’s seminal conceptual papers is included here:

Hill, B., Skouteris, H., McCabe, M., Milgrom, J., Kent, B., Herring, S., Hartley-Clark, L., & Gale, J. (2012). A Conceptual Model of Risk and Protective Factors for Excessive Gestational Weight Gain. Midwifery, 29(2), 110-114

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0266613811002075?via%3Dihub

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Further research details can be found here.

Childhood lifestyle health and obesity

Helen has worked extensively with Heidi Bergmeier in this area; Heidi was Helen’s PhD student. Their discoveries in this area are ground-breaking. They have argued that in childhood obesity research, just as in developmental research, the emphasis must be shifted from the parent and child as individuals to the parent-child dyad, and that the development of lifelong eating habits is best understood in the ecology of parent-child dyadic interactions.

As part of her PhD, Heidi, pioneered advances in the observational measurement of bidirectional parent-child mealtime (meal preparation and child feeding) and playtime interactions. The system she and Helen’s team developed to code filmed home observations of these interactions was adapted based on the Mutually Responsive Orientation work of US colleagues Kochanska and Aksan and includes maternal responsiveness, child responsiveness, positive and negative affective tone of both mothers and their children, shared positive affect, maternal power assertion (maternal control) and qualitative distinctions in children’s compliance and noncompliance with maternal directives.

Helen’s work in this area has been published in >40 peer reviewed papers, including Heidi’s conceptual papers, such as:

Bergmeier, H., Paxton S.J., Milgrom, J., Anderson, S.E., Baur, L., Hill, B., Lim, S., Green, R., & Skouteris, H. (2019). Early mother-child dyadic pathways to childhood obesity risk: A conceptual model. Appetite, 144, 104459.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666319305987

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Further research details can be found here.

Lifestyle health of young people living in out-of-home care

Healthy Eating Active Living Matters (HEALing Matters) is a Victorian Government funded online training package and knowledge exchange platform for Out Of Home Care (OOHC) residential workers and carers.

This online tool has been co-designed by Helen and her postdoctoral fellow, Dr Rachael Green, in collaboration with out-of-home care, child protection and health consumers and community stakeholders including young people with a lived experience of residential OOHC. Dr Green’s PhD research along with trauma, attachment and resilience theories provided the insights for the program’s content.

The primary aim of HEALing Matters is to improve the eating and physical activity habits, as well as the wellbeing and life skills, of young people living in residential OOHC.

By addressing this aim, HEALing Matters contributes to social and economic impact by reducing inequalities and promoting increased inclusion and health equity.

This research receive the 2020 Monash University Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Science Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research Impact (Social and Economic Impact – team)

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Further research details can be found here.

Lifestyle health in preconception, pregnancy and postpartum

In 2011, Helen led a clinical trial focused on reducing excessive gestational weight gain. This research moved the field away from a sole focus on behavioural changes to prevent excessive gestational weight gain, to emphasizing the importance of behavioural and psychological factors during pregnancy and post birth. Briony Hill was Helen’s PhD student on this work.

Helen’s work in this area has resulted in >75 peer reviewed papers.

In November 2013, Helen and Briony established the Health in Preconception, Pregnancy and Postpartum (HiPPP) Collaborative, a multidisciplinary national network with the primary aim of improving lifestyle and preventing maternal obesity using a systems approach, underpinned by partnership, research, capacity building and knowledge translation to impact practice and policy.

In late 2019 Helen was awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council, Centre of Research Excellence in Health in Preconception and Pregnancy (CRE HiPP 2020-2024) and leads a team of 10 Chief Investigators and 10 Associate Investigators.

The CRE HiPP website can be found here:

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Further research details can be found here.

Current Industry Projects…

Helen leads teams across 9 industry research projects.

The Cheshire SEED Educational Program

SEED was co-designed for educators working with young children at both low and high risk of social-emotional difficulties, including children with mental health and developmental challenges. It is a comprehensive online learning tool that aims to strengthen educators’ expertise in fostering children’s social-emotional skills. Interactive modules offer evidence-based and tailored strategies that educators can embed into their early learning environment and teacher-child interactions.
SEED was developed using Intervention Mapping methodology and since 2019, has been offered to Victorian kindergartens through the Department of Education and Training’s School Readiness Funding scheme. It was awarded one of the highest ‘strength of evidence’ rankings of all educational programs included in the initiative.

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Cradle to Kindergarten

Cradle to Kinder is an intensive long-term family support program for vulnerable young mothers who are at risk of child removal. It is delivered by MacKillop Family Services across three regions of Victoria. The program provides families with integrated, coordinated and tailored support from a multidisciplinary team from pregnancy until the child is four years old. Preliminary findings of a mixed-methods longitudinal evaluation show that the program has yielded improvements in family functioning, family environment, child safety, infant development, and child wellbeing after 24 months of engagement.

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My Care

MyCare is a community mental health program that provides assertive outreach and psychosocial support over 12-18 months for adults living in Tasmania with a serious mental illness. MyCare clients receive regular home visits from care coordinators following hospitalisation to help clients achieve their psychosocial goals. Preliminary evaluations of MyCare show that the program has a strong implementation strategy and can yield significant improvements in clients’ clinical and psychosocial functioning throughout program engagement.
A controlled trial of MyCare is currently underway to examine the effect of the program compared to standard care. Baptcare have also partnered with the team to co-design, development, implement, and evaluate a community mental health program for young people – termed MyCare Youth.
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MyCare Ageing

MyCare Ageing is a program where volunteers are trained to provide companionship to older patients, particularly those with dementia and/or delirium in hospital and during the transition home to facilitates access to existing community services to prevent ED presentations and unplanned hospital admissions. The program was co-designed with clinicians, consumers, volunteer coordinators, key stakeholders and implementation researchers and is a partnership between Baptcare, health services and Monash University. This program of research is supported by the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) as part of the Rapid Applied Research Translation program through Monash Partners Academic Health Science Centre and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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The Early Years Trauma Consultancy Service (TraCS)

The Alannah and Madeline Foundation (AMF) are working to support early childhood educators who care for children impacted by trauma. The Early Years Trauma Consultancy Service (Early Years TraCS) aims to increase educators’ capability to effectively respond to children’s challenging behaviour and foster social-emotional competencies through comprehensive and ongoing support, customised to the unique needs of each setting.

MCHRI is partnering with AMF to examine the evidence-base that underpins the Early Years TraCS program using Intervention Mapping methodology as a descriptive tool, evaluate the outcomes and impact achieved as a result of the Early Years TraCS program, and co-develop an ongoing monitoring and evaluation framework to support the Foundation to identify program benefits in a rigorous and systematic manner.

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Family Preservation and Reunification

The FPR is an initiative funded by the Victorian government that aims to foster strong families with children who are safe and thriving and parents who are supported to create a safe and nurturing home environment.

MacKillop Family Services is delivering the program in nine rural and metro areas of Victoria.

While parent and child outcome measures are being sought, the program’s implementation is also being evaluated. This will enable an understanding of what works across contexts and what translates for sustainability. Long term, this smart use of implementation science will drive positive outcomes for families.

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Refuge to Recovery

Good Shepherd is a community services organisation that aims to disrupt the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage with a focus on women and girls through services that address social and economic exclusion.

Refuge to Recovery Pilot Program is a refuge program for women and children escaping family violence environments which provides accommodation and bespoke wrap-around services to women and children for six months.

Dr O’Connor is conducting an evaluation of the pilot program examining the impact of the program on women and children’s: physical safety, environment, community participation, connection, mental health, wellbeing, family dynamics and relationships.

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Dr Mandy O’Connor
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Churn Within Australian Family Services

Churn, the persistent cycling of individuals and families in and out of family services, is a novel field of inquiry in the social care sector. The process of churn places a significant financial burden upon the family services system and has been associated with several negative consequences for the families who engage.

In partnership with the Department of Communities Tasmania, Baptcare, and Mission Australia, we aim to gain a collective understanding of churn within the context of Australian family services. Through stakeholder and service user engagement, this project will aim to generate consensus regarding the definition of churn, the causes of churn, the specific impacts associated with it, and recommendations for systemic change to address churn.

The insights we gain through this research will inform the development of interventions and policy changes that will be applied within the Australian family services system, with the ultimate goal of reducing the prevalence of churn, improving outcomes for families, and reducing the financial strain upon the system.

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Sanctuary Model

The Sanctuary model is a trauma informed and responsive method designed to shift organisation culture to foster healing from traumatic events.

This approach is delivered across the MacKillop Family Services Organisation and has been embedded within their special schools.

Our three year evaluation is ongoing and mainly examines teacher and management level outcomes, with some parent and child findings being explored. This evaluation is using implementation science principles to uncover organisational, service and client factors that contribute to the successful roll out of Sanctuary.

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The Queen Elizabeth project

A research partnership, between Monash University, Health and Social Care Unit (HSCU) and The Queen Elizabeth Centre (QEC), has been established to support QEC’s mission of inspiring confident, capable communities that enable children to thrive. This partnership is grounded in QEC’s vision for children to get the best start in life.

QEC’s public hospital and early parenting centres promote and support parent (care giver) / child relationships. QEC works in partnership with families to strengthen healthy and appropriate parenting for children from pre-birth through to the preschool years, with a focus on improving the impact of these relationships on outcomes for infants and young children.

The Monash University HSCU and QEC partnership aims to build the evidence base for the sustainability of QEC programs to improve child outcomes. This research project will conduct implementation and outcome evaluations of QEC programs and collaboratively develop an Outcomes Framework for consistent measurement of program delivery.

Project Lead:

Dr Mandy O’Connor
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