#NICVAPeople - a minute with Dr Helena Mc Elhinney

27 Nov 2018     Last updated: 14 Feb 2019

This month's #NICVAPeople interview is with Dr Helena Mc Elhinney.

Job Title

Research Officer

How would you explain what you do every day?

My role is quite varied, and involves researching topics important to the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector in Northern Ireland through the development, distribution and analysis of surveys.

I also provide research support to charities and community groups, collaborate with QUB and Ulster University on research and public engagement activities, and represent NICVA on several external academic and government body steering committees and research awards panels.

How long have you been with NICVA and what did you do before?

I have been with NICVA since January 2018.

Prior to that, I completed a PhD at Ulster University which focused on child protection in pregnancy. My research focused on professionals’ decision making around child protection and the influence of risk factors including mental illness, domestic abuse, drugs and alcohol, adverse childhood experiences on child protection referrals, specifically of unborn babies.

What are you working on right now and how will it impact the wider sector?

We recently carried out a survey on the potential impact of Brexit and the absence of a Northern Ireland government.

The aim is to determine VCSE sector organisation’s views on the Brexit process and the current lack of government in Northern Ireland. The results will help NICVA to understand, reflect and represent how the sector believes it will be affected by Brexit to policy makers in the EU commission and the UK government and to other organisations.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of working at NICVA?

We very much work as a team in NICVA, and it is nice to work in a supportive environment that encourages further learning and professional development. I am very passionate about undertaking research which can make a difference to the lives of individuals and families in the community, and working at NICVA allows me to do this.

If you had to pick just one thing to change about the sector in Northern Ireland what would it be and why?

Prioritise funding for the areas and services that are most needed in the community.

As a researcher in mental health and child protection, it is extremely concerning to see funding for mental health service provision in the VCSE sector reduced or completely withdrawn for some organisations. Individuals and families depend on these services and the impact of this loss could potentially be catastrophic to their wellbeing.

What’s the last app you downloaded?


Last holiday you took?

I went home to Co. Donegal in September to spend time with my family and friends.

Favourite blog?

I am in the process of writing publications from my PhD research, so I follow The Thesis Whisperer for tips on writing articles and books.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to get into the world of research?

Undertaking a career as a researcher involves determination, perseverance and a desire to undertake research which should aim to inform and improve service provision, legislation and policy.

It requires you to be innovative, be prepared to take risks, work in collaboration, pay great attention to detail, work in an ethical manner, make informed decisions which you can defend and disseminate your findings to improve the lives of the population you are researching.

My advice would be to choose an area of research that you are passionate about as it is this passion that will sustain you through the ups and downs of the research process.

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