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Gordon Harold

Honorary Professor

School of Law and Politics


Professor Gordon Harold - an expert in child development and the role of the family in children's psychological development - has been appointed to the new post of the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Chair in Psychology.

His focus after arriving at Sussex this October will be to establish and lead a new adoption research centre at the University.

The Andrew and Virginia Rudd Centre for Adoption Research and Practice will look at the major challenges facing children and families in transition as well as specific challenges faced by adopted children and their families. It represents a collaborative partnership between the School of Psychology and the School of Education & Social Work.

The Centre is being established with a generous £1.5 million donation by Sussex graduate Andrew Rudd and his wife Virginia, whose interest stems from their experience as the parents of both adopted and biological children.

As founding Director of the Centre, Professor Harold will lead a team of psychologists, social workers and education specialists at the University who will be looking at the many and profound ways through which early separation or trauma followed by adoption shapes the lives of all involved, and how adoptive families, and other families in transition, can best support these children.

Specific areas of interest will include:

  • How separation, institutionalisation, maltreatment and other trauma influence child development and family life in adoption and other contexts of family transition
  • How new research insights in fields ranging from neuroscience to genetics to social policy can be used to inform practice
  • International adoption and cross-cultural placement
  • The role of prenatal and postnatal factors in influencing child development and family life in adoption and other family contexts
  • Factors that promote the welfare and wellbeing of children, parents and carers across contexts of adoption and families in transition

Professor Harold is currently Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and Quantitative Behaviour Genetics at the University of Leicester, a position he has held since 2011.

Before that, he spent three years (2008-2011) as Alexander McMillan Chair, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Originally from Dublin, he studied at undergraduate and postgraduate level at Iowa State University in the USA, achieving a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 1991 and Master of Science in Family Studies and Child Development in 1993.

He received his PhD from Cardiff University in 1998, was appointed Lecturer in Psychology at Cardiff the same year and Professor of Psychology in 2008.

His research interests focus on the role of the family as a context for understanding children's normal and abnormal psychological development, the genetic origins of children's emotional and behavioural development, and policy and practice applications of research relating to family influences on children.

His expertise in developmental psychopathology, behavioural genetics, family process research, and statistical methods will provide his Sussex colleagues with theoretical and methodological expertise aimed at promoting understanding of the processes and mechanisms that underlie children's responses to family change and transition, with an emphasis on adoption processes.

This will help to facilitate a central objective of informing intervention and prevention efforts, which lie at the core of the research-into-practice model that guides the Centre's aims.

Professor Pete Clifton, Head of the School of Psychology, said: "Sussex already has world-recognised expertise in this field.

"We believe that an interdisciplinary approach, involving the latest research in social care, psychology and the life sciences, will help solve some of the critical issues of adoption.

"Professor Harold's background and commitment to understanding children's development will generate cutting-edge research that can be translated into effective policy and practice to support the wellbeing of adopted children and their families."

Brian Hudson, Head of the School of Education and Social Work, said: "Adoption as a child placement policy and family experience continues to excite intense public and policy interest and debate in the UK and beyond. Too little is known still about what works best in supporting adoptive family life when children cannot be brought up safely in their original home.

"Professor Harold's intellectual leadership and interdisciplinary orientation to child development and family formation will enable Sussex to establish a leading role nationally and internationally in advancing deeper understanding of the psychological and social impact of adoption and of the social work, education and other interventions that should be promoted to support the process effectively."

Virginia and Andrew Rudd said: "We are very excited to be working with Sussex on this critical project. Sussex brings an amazing array of talent and facilities that will enable the Centre to advance an important research and policy agenda to help inform the practical, everyday issues of adopted children and their families."