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Wirral Child Health and Development Study

About the cohort

PI: Professor Jonathan Hill (Reading) and Dr Helen Sharp (Liverpool)

  • Start date: March 2007
  • Age at recruitment: 20 week gestation
  • Sample size at recruitment: 1286 families
  • Estimated current sample size: 900 families

The Wirral Child Health and Development Study was established in 2007 to identify early social, emotional and biological risks and processes involved in the development of childhood conduct problems. It was designed to identify pathways to antisocial outcomes that might require differing treatment responses. The study is also ideally designed to identify pathways to childhood emotional problems.

A consecutive sample of first time pregnant women aged 18 years and above were recruited at their 20 week scan appointment at the sole provider of antenatal care on Wirral, Merseyside, between March 2007 and December 2008. Just under 70% of eligible families agreed to take part. Recruitment established an ‘Extensive’ general population sample of mothers, partners and infants for longitudinal follow-up, together with an ‘Intensive’ sub-sample, stratified by prenatal risk indexed by partner relationship functioning, who completed additional intensive measurement phases over time. This sampling strategy was designed to facilitate the generation of population-based estimates of effects from intensive measurement phases.

Key features of the WCHADS study are:

  • The frequency and depth of parent and child assessment.
  • The novel use of experimental methods embedded within a longitudinal design (e.g., use of social stress paradigms with physiological recording before, during and after exposure)
  • Use of repeated measurement of the same constructs throughout development enabling specificity in timing of putative effects.
  • Use of a stratified design to facilitate the generation of population-based estimates of effects from Intensive phases of measurement not normally feasible within a longitudinal cohort.
  • Use of a range of informant questionnaires (parent and teacher), observational measures, standardised developmental assessments, experimental measures of child social, emotional, behavioural and physiological functioning, together with repeated biological sampling of DNA.
  • Linkage with health visitor routine data and teacher reports.

Frequency of measures:

The Extensive sample (N=1286; 1233 from birth) was assessed at 20 weeks gestation (phase 1 recruitment), birth (phase 3), 9 weeks (phase 5), 14 months (phase 7), 3.5 years (phase 10), 4.5 years (phase 12) and age 7 years (phase 13).

The Intensive subsample (N=316 from birth) completed additional measures at 32-36 weeks gestation (phase 2), 5 weeks of age (phase 4), 29 weeks (phase 6), 14 months (phase 8), 2.5 years (phase 9), 4.5 years (phase 11) and 7 years (phase 13). Phase 14 is planned at age 9 years (commencing September 2016). 



Contact details:

Dr Karen Rafferty (Study Administrator)
The Wirral Child Health and Development Study (First Steps)
The Lauries Community Centre
142 Claughton Road
Wirral, CH41 6EY
Telephone 0151 650 5490


Medical Research Council

Page last updated: 26 May 2016


  • Gender: Male, Female
  • Sample size: 0-4,999
  • Anthropometric: Height, Weight
  • Physical: Cardiovascular, Reproductive
  • Psychological: Mental health, Cognitive function
  • Lifestyle: Smoking, Dietary habits, Alcohol
  • Socio-economic: Occupation, Finances, Family circumstances, Housing, Education, Ethnic group, Marital status, Social support
  • Biological samples: Saliva