Improving the lives of children and families Improving the lives of children and families

The School of Social Work through the work of the Centre for Research on Children and Families (CRCF) has shaped key areas of UK social policy and social work practice in relation to children and families, in particular the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Our aim is to use our research to improve the lives of children and families by communicating research evidence on policy and models for practice to a range of user groups and beneficiaries across the statutory, voluntary and independent sectors regionally, nationally and internationally. 
Our research has been supported by a range of funders, all of whom demand a high level of impact e.g. Government departments, the Office of the Children's Commissioner, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Nuffield Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the NSPCC and a range of voluntary agencies and local authorities. The CRCF has become highly respected and has provided an important focus in maintaining our role in influencing services, ranging from investigations into child death to developing internationally valued attachment based models of caregiving in foster care and adoption as well as studies of care proceedings, of LGBT identity for care leavers and of fathers in child protection.
An underpinning principle is that maximum impact will only be achieved if the research is both persuasively rigorous and genuinely meets the needs of all the stakeholders who will use it. Our research achieves impact through our relationships with policy makers in government and leaders of social work practice, for example the NSPCC, British Association for Adoption and Fostering and local authorities. We have strong connections with regional and national groups of local authorities through Making Research Count, for which UEA was a founding organisation and also Research in Practice. 
Below are some examples of how our research in the fields of ‘child protection and family support' and ‘child placement' have made an impact on policy and practice. 


This year has seen an increase both in the range of agencies using the Secure Base model of therapeutic caregiving and in the number of countries and cultural contexts where the model is used. This has provided important opportunities for learning more about implementation and for networking between agencies.

In the UK we have been working directly on implementation of the Secure Base model with a number of local authorities and independent agencies providing foster care, adoption and residential care – and many other agencies have developed the model in their work using materials from the CoramBAAF practice guides and the website A selected group of agencies representing these different sectors attended a Secure Base Network meeting in London in March 2017 to discuss ideas and examples from practice. Agencies shared examples of their practice that included using the Secure Base model for training social workers, foster carers, adopters and residential staff; for assessing children’s progress; for assessment and reviewing foster carers; for matching children with caregivers; and for a range of documentation to embed the model in practice.

This year has also seen several CRCF research projects using the Secure Base model for developing practice. Dr Laura Biggart has used her ESRC funded research on emotional intelligence and the emotional demands of child and family social work to develop a framework for staff support based on the concept of the team as a Secure Base (see below/next page). Mary Beek, Beth Neil and Gillian Schofield are also using the Secure Base as the underpinning framework for key areas of practice in the Moving to Adoption study, funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust. Gillian Schofield has also used the Secure Base model to analyse the caregiving needs of LGBTQ young people in care.

Internationally there have been a number of activities this year. In August 2016 Mary Beek delivered a Masterclass on the Secure Base model at the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies conference in Sydney, Australia. This was followed by a visit to Berry Street Childhood Institute in Melbourne to support implementation in an organisation which covers a large geographical area and includes services to remote and culturally very diverse communities, for example supporting Aboriginal kinship placements where there is limited literacy. For these communities, the short animation film which illustrates the model, developed by Care for Children in Thailand was felt to be especially helpful and Care for Children were pleased to give permission for Berry Street to use the film in their training. In Beijing, the Care for Children team manager, Emma Zhang, has now translated the Secure Base practice guide into Mandarin and uses it to support new foster carers.

Also this year, a Spanish translation by a Barcelona based psychologist of Secure Base model materials for practice has been developed for use in Peru and elsewhere. And a former CRCF doctoral research student, Rawan Ibrahim from Jordan, reported that on a visit on behalf of UNICEF to Northern Iraq she came across Arabic and Kurdish translations of the Secure Base model, with the materials being used to train social workers involved with fostering and supporting displaced children and young people.

It continues to be very pleasing that the Secure Base model, based on research conducted in the CRCF, is flexible enough to be used across this range of cultural contexts and to give children and young people who have experienced a range of adversities a better chance of feeling secure and fulfilling their potential.



A broad programme of impact activities have focused around improving professional practice in relation to post adoption contact drawing on the substantial body of research led by Prof Beth Neil. Her studies suggest that decisions about post adoption contact need to be made on a case-by-case basis weighing up a range of risk and protective factors with no simple formula to determine which children should have what contact. This means the quality of professional decision-making is crucial in getting things right for children. 

Over the last year Beth has been working with Research in Practice. Together, they have carried out a project to develop a range of practice resources that can assist practitioners in making evidence based decisions about post adoption contact. These resources can be used for purposes such as staff training and the education of adoptive parents and birth relatives. The practice tools draw directly on the underpinning research and are made available through an online free-to-use resource. Beth’s work is already heavily referenced in other practice guides on post adoption contact, but the development of these practice tools takes accessibility a step further. The messages from the research were emphasised in a recent article in the Observer (31 March 2017) which also featured the new website. The article also noted that a senior judge (Lord Justice McFarlane) has said Beth’s contact after Adoption study is “required reading for us all”. 

The resources were developed and tested in a ‘Change Project’ involving participants from across the RiP network (approximately 20 practitioners experienced in the field of adoption) through a series of 4, day-long development workshops. Initial meetings enabled the sharing of research findings and the identification of practice issues and existing practice initiatives and resources. Group members identified resources not
yet in existence that could be used in practice and worked on drafting new materials. Following this RiP (with UEA consultation and input) drew together the evidence and outputs of this collective learning and developed an additional extensive range of resources. These included practice briefs, powerpoint presentations with trainer’s notes, training exercises, videos that can be used for staff development or preparing adoptive parents, research summaries etc. An open access website has been designed to host all these materials. This website was launched in the Spring of 2017 and can be viewed here.

Beth’s other research dissemination activities over the year have been listed elsewhere in this report. Most recently Beth has been presenting and debating her findings with practitioners in Lisbon, Portugal in April 2017. Beth was commissioned by the German Research Centre on Adoption (funded by the German Ministry for Families, Elders, Women and Children), to prepare an expert report (literature review) on the support needs of birth parents in adoption, and this review was published online in March. Just a reminder that the website disseminating findings from Beth’s longitudinal ‘contact after adoption’ study in a form accessible for practitioners, adoptive parents, birth relatives and adopted young people is available as a UEA Microsite:





We are making headway in developing child-centred practice tools based on the research ‘It takes a lot to build trust’ Recognition and Telling: Developing earlier routes to help for children and young people’. The study was funded by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England who continue to help us to develop and promote the work. Materials are being developed via a website as an online resource for practitioners using the iCAN framework.
The framework is being aimed, initially, at teaching and support staff in primary and secondary schools and in colleges. Materials will be freely available for school and college staff to use as part of their safeguarding training and daily practice. The website and the online resources differ from other materials as the framework enables staff to understand abuse and neglect from the child’s point of view and encourages staff to think about what children and young people might be thinking.
Early versions of practice materials have been tested over the year with teachers locally and regionally, at an education conference in Manchester, in June 2016 and with social workers and care leavers in Sydney, Australia in September 2016.
The iCAN framework has three areas: recognition, telling and help. In each area of the framework, there are examples of how a child or young person might be weighing things up.
The outer circle indicates the different stages that the child might be at in terms of recognition, telling and help. A child can move between the stages in a non-linear fashion, which may depend on previous experiences, age and individual circumstances.






There are also three other new impact areas being developed by studies which are still in progress. These

are ‘Counting fathers in’, the Nuffield funded study of fathers’ involvement in the child protection system

and ‘SpeakOut’ the LGBTQ young people in care study (funded by ESRC led by Dr Jeanette Cossar) and informing the development of mental health services for adopted children (led by Prof Beth Neil). All case studies and the new impact areas have been supported by ESRC impact accelerator funding from the University.

Rapid Response funding was made available to extend the impact from the fathers’ project and improve take up of research-informed practice. The impact work is being led by Dr Georgia Philip (with Dr John Clifton and Prof Marian Brandon) and is intended to embed messages about the assessment of fathers in child protection into social work practice, and develop models of effective relationship building. The project involves the (in-house) production of video and audio teaching resources and bespoke training and dissemination work with participating local authorities. Teaching resources will also be produced in collaboration with fathers who took part in the original study, and will form part of a forthcoming Continuing Professional Development (CPD) module ‘Working with men’. Fathers will be supported to take part in either filmed interviews of their experiences of child protection and/or to give permission for their original audio-recorded interviews to be edited for teaching purposes. The bespoke staff training will be designed with key local authority managers who have actively supported our research. The template for training and CPD can be extended nationally and internationally and to wider professional groups and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Following the ESRC funded ‘SpeakOut’ LGBTQ project, Dr Jeanette Cossar has secured funding to co-devise training materials for multi-professional practice, working alongside young researchers and agency partners. The impact grant has been awarded by Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research & Care (CLAHRC) which is a new funder for the Centre. This work aims to deliver accessible, research-led training materials available in various formats depending on the needs of service providers; an animated film sharing experiences of young people in care from across England to be disseminated

via YouTube and on the dedicated research microsite:; and finally a good practice guide to be published by CoramBAAF.

Impact Strategy

The Social Sciences faculty at UEA has developed an Impact Enhancement Strategy aimed at supporting research activity across Schools, toward stimulating greater impact and making a practical difference beyond academia.

Please click here for more information about the Faculty Impact Strategy