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Meet the team


  • Dr Peter van der Graaf, the AskFuse service, Leo’s Board of Trustees, parent and carer representation (via the Board and service users), researchers from Fuse Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, and an AskFuse/Teesside University student researcher.

What is the positive change that has emerged through new collaborations or partnerships during Covid-19 that your project is going to embed?

Leo’s Neonatal charity (Leo’s) supports the mental, physical and social well-being of families who have, or have had, a sick or premature baby in neonatal units in Middlesbrough, Darlington, Durham, and Sunderland.  Prior to the Covid-19 social distancing measures the Leo’s team would visit families on neonatal units and in community groups.  As a direct result of parental feedback, Leo’s has provided additional support aiming to reduce adverse consequences resulting from the shielding measures and visiting restrictions which impact on the mental health of the family/ parent /infant relationships and the physical and psychosocial development of the infant.

This additional support has developed new referral processes and new collaborations with local Crisis teams and perinatal mental health teams, and specialist therapy and counselling providers to provide accessible and comprehensive support.

An evaluation is needed to review the additional interventions and delivery methods to determine its impact and accessibility.

What does your project aim to achieve?

The purpose of the impact and process evaluation is to establish[HL1] :

·         to what extent have additional interventions reduce the potential adverse consequences resulting from the shielding measures/visiting restrictions?

·         In what way have additional interventions impacted on the mental health of the family/ parent /infant relationships

·         In what way has the addition interventions impacted on the physical and psychosocial development of the infant?

·         From a health inequalities perspective, what worked well/did not work well, and for whom?

·         What additional needs emerged that need to be continued beyond 6 months?

·         How did the parents mental health and support needs change post-discharge?

The evaluation results will be used modify the interventions on offer and/or the delivery methods, consolidate and create partnership working, apply for further funding, broaden the evidence base for this type of service provision in neonatal units nationally, and build up organisational support networks.   [HL1]

How will the project be delivered?

Leo’s Board of Trustees are parent-led, with board members being partners and NHS professionals with knowledge/experience of neonatal, paediatric care and loss.   They are committed to professional and personal development and are looking to co-produce the evaluation alongside public health researchers from Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in public health.  Researchers from Fuse’s Early Life research programme have experience of the complexity of co-producing early years research.   Fuse researchers collaborate and share their expertise with each other across the Universities of Sunderland, Durham, Teesside, Newcastle and Northumbria, thus maximising scope and minimising risk of non-completion.  Fuse researchers can also facilitate co-production and dissemination of the evaluation findings.

Leo’s have already collected extensive baseline data that researchers will be able to access, and experienced Fuse researchers can undertake qualitative and quantitative research methods.  Leo’s can facilitate access to families accessing the support and to other stakeholders/partners involved.

How is your project going to share learning?

Leo’s is interested in linking with the Q members and the Health Foundation’s research dissemination activities, and their collaboration with Fuse brings access to Fuse’s expertise in knowledge mobilisation, with the opportunity to contribute to Fuse blogs, research meetings attended by policy and practice partners, and co-produce lay research summaries.  Leo’s are keen that evaluation findings are written up as a journal article, as this will enhance the chances of future funding and add impact to further the charity’s aims.  The charity will share learning with their funders from the National Lottery, Tees Valley Community Foundation, Durham Community Foundation and Comic Relief.

The Board are also interested in developing best practice guidelines to share with a range of regional and national organisations such as the NHS, the Northern Neonatal Network, the Northern Perinatal Mental Health Network, and local maternity services.

How you can contribute

  • Feedback on the research idea and signposting to/ reflections on similar practices elsewhere.
  • Suggestions for the evaluation design, co-production and implementation activities
  • Expressions of interest from Q-members who want to be involved in any of these activities.

Plan timeline

1 Apr 2021 Start of research project
1 Jun 2021 Coproduction of research design and peer researcher training
1 Mar 2022 Co-delivery of research project
31 Mar 2022 Dissemination and implementation of evaluation findings


  1. Hi Peter,

    Myself and my colleague Emma Adams (Health Transformation Partnership) are supporting the Health Foundation this year by fostering conversations between Q members and encouraging collaboration. We were Exchange applicants last year, so we’re hoping that our experience will help us to help others, as their ideas take shape.

    I wondered, having read your idea, whether it would be helpful to link in to the Evaluation Q Special Interest Group? They may be able to provide you feedback on the evaluation practices you are undertaking.

    I'll keep an eye on other ideas which may be undertaking similar practices. In the meantime, I wish you luck with your idea.


    1. Hi Pete,

      Many thanks for your helpful suggestion. I have now joined the Evaluation Q SIG and ask members to consider this idea for feedback and support.  Fingers crossed :) Best wishes,


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