Identifying barriers to accessing early years services and supports

ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) collaborative doctoral studentship

The Department of Experimental Psychology, the University of Oxford with the Southampton Family Hub Team.



Dr Alexandra Hendry, the University of Oxford

Non-academic supervisor from Southampton Family Hub Team (TBA)



The first three years of life lay the foundations for wellbeing across the lifespan. From mental and physical health, to academic and financial success, what happens in a child’s early years has been demonstrated to have far-reaching consequences. With this in mind, the government have committed £300million to Family Hubs, tasked with ensuring families get the support they need to give children the best start in life. Supports include increasing access to early childhood education and care, intensive parenting support, and interventions for children with special educational needs. Research suggests that the families who may benefit most from both universal and targeted support are those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, or other metrics of adversity. By better understanding the barriers families face to accessing and maintaining access to supports – and how these barriers intersect with support needs (within the child, parent or family system) and socio-economic and other demographic factors – this project will inform and shape service provision in ways that will increase the likelihood of support being accessed by those likely to benefit most.

Below we have outlined research questions aligned to the project’s objective. We anticipate that the student will select and develop a subset of these questions, according to their interests and a feasibility review of data availability and quality, in conjunction with the collaborative partner early in year 1. The ideal project will contextualise national or regional trends with in-depth insights into families’ lives.

  1. Which – in term of demographic patterns and profiles of need – families aren’t accessing the support they are entitled to?
  2. What are the barriers to accessing different types of supports?
  3. Does involvement in early years intervention influence uptake of other entitlements and supports?
  4. How does involvement in prospective neurodiversity-focused early years interventions (using the START feasibility RCT as a case study; influence requests and uptake of diagnostic services and specialist provision?

Candidates with a background in psychology, education or social policy and an interest in applied health and social care research are particularly encouraged to apply.



This studentship is being offered in partnership with Southampton Family Hub team. Their input will enable this academic research to be grounded in real-world practice and will facilitate rapid, open and collaborative dialogue between researchers and service providers. As one of the 75 DfE funded Family Hubs, the Southampton Family Hub team will be able to engage with both voluntary and statutory services within the City and will also be able to broker relationships with commissioned services and the wider Early Help offer in the City.



The PhD studentship will be funded by the Grand Union DTP for an expected 3.5 years from October 2024. The award length offered may differ depending on the candidate’s prior training and how they meet ESRC training requirements. .

Information about Grand Union DTP ESRC studentships and eligibility can be found on the Grand Union DTP website.



12:00 midday UK time on 15 December 2023



To apply for the studentship, you must submit an application to study for a DPhil in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. Details about applying can be found via

Your application should include a research proposal that indicates how your proposed research would engage with the core elements of this project if you were offered the studentship. Your proposal may draw on the description of the research detailed above.

In addition you must complete a Grand Union DTP Application Form and upload it, together with your graduate application form. Please ensure you also select 'ESRC Grand Union DTP Studentships in Social Sciences' in the University of Oxford scholarships section of the University's graduate application form.

The admissions process is in two parts: applications will be assessed by the institution and the selected candidate will then be assessed as part of the applicant pool for ESRC Grand Union DTP funding.



Queries about the studentship should be addressed to: Dr Alexandra Hendry (