Centre for Social Work Innovation and Research

Research highlights

Current and Recent Projects

boy shouting into microphone

New research project on using the data and voice of children and families to improve their lives  

Funder: Nuffield Foundation, October 2021 - September 2026 

Professor Elaine Sharland [e.sharland@sussex.ac.uk], Dr Perpetua Kirby [p.kirby@sussex.ac.uk], Dr Liam BerrimanProfessor Gillian Ruch, and Professor Lisa Holmes are partners in an innovative £2.8 million Nuffield Foundation award for research to transform how information about and from children and families is gathered, interpreted and used in child and family social policy, at local and national levels.

This exciting collaborative initiative is led by Professor Leon Feinstein, at the University of Oxford, with further research partners at the London School of Economics and Political Science, University College London and Manchester Metropolitan University. Academic researchers will be working co-productively with five Local Sites: Greater Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, North Yorkshire and Hampshire local authorities, to build capacity and understanding about how to better use administrative data to improve practice and policy. Researchers will collaborate with children, young people, parents, carers, professionals and policymakers to understand and shape how information can be used ethically and effectively. A Learning Network, run by Research in Practice, will bring together 20 local authorities to test out the findings from the five Local Sites and to develop learning materials to support sustainable learning and change across England.

Sussex colleagues will be leading the work on the ethics of data practices, and on voice. The goal is to make sure that children’s administrative data are gathered, shared and used in ways that are both ethically sound and most effective. This includes ensuring that the voices of children, young people and those who care for them and work with them appear loud, clear and authentically within children's data, and are heard when deciding how children’s information should be used.

Improving Social Care Systems and Practices for Young People at Complex Safeguarding Risk: What promotes and sustains innovation?

Funder: ESRC, 2019-2023

This project is based on a major grant award by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), entitled ‘Improving social care systems and practices for young people at complex safeguarding risk: what promotes and sustains innovation?’. The four year project will examine innovation in services and interventions to address complex safeguarding risks faced by adolescents, such as child sexual and criminal exploitation, gang involvement and unmet mental health needs. The project as a whole is led by Professor Michelle Lefevre (Principal Investigator) with a team at the University of Sussex including Professor Gillian RuchDr Kristine HickleDr Jeri DammanDr Reima MaglajlicDr Nathalie Huegler and Dr Carlie Goldsmith, working in collaboration with the Universities of Bedfordshire and Oxford, Research in PracticeInnovation Unit and ‘Become’.

The research will consider, among other issues, the sensitive relationship between social and structural factors and their capacity to overwhelm the efforts of individual young people, their parents, carers and practitioners. The research design is based on a distinctively inclusive and empowering methodology, which is crucial for the effectiveness of a project which involves conducting research with such marginalised participants. The research team will collaborate with practice-based colleagues and service user groups across three discrete, but inter-connected, research strands: contextual safeguarding, trauma-informed practice and transitional safeguarding.

Contextual Safeguarding Evaluation, London Borough of Hackney

Funder: Department for Education, 2018-2020

As part of the Government’s Innovation Programme in Children’s Social Care, Professor Michelle Lefevre is leading a DfE funded evaluation of contextual safeguarding practice in Hackney. The project team encompasses representatives from across the University - Professor Robin Banerjee and Dr Helen Drew (both Psychology), Dr Michael Barrow (Economics), Dr Kristine Hickle and Dr Tam Cane (both Social Work and Social Care) – who are working alongside colleagues from Research in Practice to deliver a mixed methodology evaluation. Using qualitative and quantitative methods and measures, the team will generate rich data to evidence the impact of innovative approaches to safeguarding young people at risk outside of the home from criminal and sexual exploitation, gang-involvement and serious youth violence. The final report will be available in March 2020.

Pause Evaluation

Funder: Department for Education, 2018-2020

With funding from the Government’s Innovation Programme in Children’s Social Care, Professor Janet Boddy (Education) is leading an evaluation of Pause, a national service for women who have experienced recurrent removals of children into care, and who have often experienced significant trauma and disadvantage through their own childhoods. Working collaboratively with Janet are colleagues from Sussex, Research in Practice and Ipsos Mori. The study is engaging with women and professionals involved with Pause to deliver a mixed methodological evaluation of the service. Findings to date highlight the complex sensitivities surrounding the lives of the women involved with Pause and the importance of working and researching in ways that fully acknowledge their circumstances.

Partners in Practice: A Practice Review

Funder: Department for Education, 2019-2020

In May 2019, Principal Investigator Professor Gillian Ruch and Dr Reima Maglajlic were awarded funding from the Department of Education to undertake a review of the work and impact of Partners in Practice (PiPs). The PiPs group comprises local authorities who were identified by the Department of Education’s Innovation in Children’s Social Care Programme as high functioning and high quality local Children’s Services. Over the past two years, PiPs have showcased their good practice across the sector and have offered focussed assistance to local authorities who have been encountering difficulties in the delivery of services to children and families experiencing vulnerability and hardship. Over the period July 2019 to March 2020 the study will review all relevant documentation that tracks the progress and impact of the PiPs work and will engage with the sector to report back and discuss the study findings in light of their direct experiences.

Madness After The War: Exploring alternatives to dominant understandings of mental health in the context of political conflict

Funder: Independent Social Research Foundation, July 2019

As a global development priority, mental health is a challenge beyond the scope of a single discipline. It requires new modes of inquiry to advance new knowledge and support practices. In this project the Principal Investigator, Dr Reima Maglajlic with co-Investigators Dr China Mills, Senior Lecturer in Public Health, City University of London, Halida Vejzagić, Survivor Researcher from ‘Menssana’ (Association for Protection of Mental Health, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina - BiH) and Jasmin Palata, Survivor Researcher from ‘Fenix’ (Association for Mutual Support in Mental Distress, Tuzla BiH) will offer new insights on mental distress during and after political conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) - a site of various post-war development interventions. One of the rare development successes was the introduction of community mental health services, including the development of organisations run or led by people who use mental health services as experts by experience (EBE). To date, the impact of the war on mental health is mainly conceptualised and researched through Western and medicalised understanding of mental distress. Reforms in BiH have been criticised for being predominately shaped by donor interests. Meaningful engagement with EBE has been identified as missing from much global mental health research and practice, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This exploratory study will be implemented through co-production by two professionals with a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and two BiH EBE. It will include narrative interviews with people from two BiH regions on their experiences of mental distress and support they received.

This research is underpinned by the emerging interdisciplinary field of Mad Studies which offers a critical challenge to the medical model of mental distress. It takes an interdisciplinary approach to contextualising and historicising madness. Furthermore, narrative analysis of the data will utilise the concept of border thinking from decolonial theory, enabling focus on the lived dimension of experiences which have been excluded from knowledge production. In line with the ISRF goals, this study will offer insights into novel ways of understanding and supporting people experiencing mental distress and promote them across a variety of relevant fields and disciplines.

Safeguarding in UK-funded Official Development Assistance research: An evidence review

Funder: UK Collaborative for International Development Research

Dr David Orr received a grant from the UK Collaborative for International Development Research (UKCDR) to review the evidence base on safeguarding in UK-funded Official Development Assistance research and propose principles for the sector. This project was commissioned following concerns about safeguarding in the international development sector and aimed to investigate how related issues might apply in research. David led a team with Sussex colleagues Dr Synne Dyvik and Dr Gabrielle Daoust (both International Relations), Professor Janet Boddy and Sangita Puhan (both Education).

The report has now been published:
Orr, D., Daoust, G., Dyvik, S.L., Puhan, S.S. & Boddy, J. (2019): Safeguarding in International Development: Evidence Review. London: UKCDR [https://www.ukcdr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/20190603-UKCDR-Evidence-Review_updated.pdf]

Reducing Parental Conflict Project Evaluation, Brighton Oasis Project

Funder: Department for Work and Pensions, Reducing Parental Conflict Fund

Professor Gillian Ruch and Dr Jeri Damman are conducting an independent evaluation of the Reducing Parental Conflict Project funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, Reducing Parental Conflict Fund and being delivered by the Brighton Oasis Project. The project consists of four distinct service delivery components to address parental conflict among individuals with prior substance misuse difficulties in East Sussex: (1) the Parents as Partners programme, an 8-week curriculum-based programme for parent dyads; (2) individual and group support for fathers; (3) establishing regional professional ‘father champions’ role, and (4) professional training.

A particular emphasis of the project is on strengthening the role of fathers. The purpose of the evaluation is to better understand the impact the project has on parents, children and professionals in the community. Evaluation findings will contribute to the development of knowledge about how to improve outcomes for families in conflict, the enablers and barriers to success and the conditions required to replicate success. Knowledge will also be developed on effective strategies to strengthen father engagement and the role of fathers in families.

The ‘Rethinking Families’ Programme Evaluation

Funder: East Sussex Children’s Services (ESCC) and CSWIR

The ‘Rethinking Families’ programme seeks to effect positive change in families currently involved with Children’s Services where there has been significant involvement with social services over many years (where problems are deemed entrenched). The model of intervention is based on an attachment based therapeutic method, known as the Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment. DMM emphasises the dynamic interaction of the maturation of the human behaviour and focuses on underlying attachment patterns and function of behaviour. It is being piloted by East Sussex County Council and has been jointly designed and taught by accredited DMM trainers commissioned by ESCC. The model mirrors the ‘Love Barrow Families’ project which is currently showing positive outcomes for families. East Sussex Children’s Services and CSWIR are co-funding a small-scale independent evaluation of the programme’s impact so far. The evaluation is intended to illuminate the extent to which the programme can be shown to have had a positive impact on child and parent outcomes in two exemplar cases. It also aims to assess the impact on the immediate practice system in the primary project site of ESCC, such that informed decisions can be taken about the efficacy of the model. The project is being led by Professor Gillian Ruch with evaluation work undertaken by a CSWIR post- doctoral research associate, Dr Louise Sims and will report in early 2020.

Evaluation Panel Member, What Works in Children’s Social Care

Funder: What Works in Children’s Social Care

In March 2019, the Department of Social Work and Social Care, under the skilled leadership of Professor Elaine Sharland, was successful in being appointed to the Panel of Evaluators for the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care (WWC CSC). This cross-Centre bid between CSWIR, CIRCY and the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Centre for Adoption Research and Practice was led by Elaine in collaboration with a wider group of Sussex and external colleagues, including Professors Robin Bannerjee (Psychology), Janet Boddy (Education), Gordon Harold (Psychology and the Rudd Centre) and Michelle Lefevre (Social Work and Social Care) being named as prospective Principal Investigators. The WWC CSC is part of Nesta, a high profile UK innovation foundation, which seeks better outcomes for children, young people and families by bringing the best available evidence to practitioners and other decision makers across the children’s social care sector, and supports practice leaders in promoting evidence-informed practice in their organisations. The WWC plans on supporting research into a wide range of interventions in children’s social care, using a variety of research methodologies. As a member of the Panel of Evaluators, the Department of Social Work and Social Care will be among a range of diverse organisations eligible to undertake these evaluations.

Talking and listening to children

Research funder: ESRC, UK

There is a substantial body of knowledge about the circumstances surrounding social workers' interventions with children particularly in relation to child protection. In stark contrast far less is known about how social workers communicate with children in ordinary, everyday practice, the challenges they encounter in this process and the sense that social workers and children make of their interactions and conversations. Of particular note is the absence of detailed empirical data on what social workers do in their everyday encounters with children and their families. To date we have relied largely on the retrospective reflective accounts of participants in these social worker-child encounters. We have some ideas as to what happens (children are overlooked or inadequately engaged with), how it happens (parents' use of space, and physical presence to exclude child from conversation) and why it happens (time pressures, power, intimidating emotional dynamics, exposure to risk, fear of what might be said and what to do with what is said). What is missing is the direct observation of everyday social worker-child interactions.

In collaboration with colleagues at the Universities of Cardiff, Edinburgh and Queens, Belfast, CSWIR researchers concluded a four UK nations, ESRC funded project exploring social workers everyday interactions and encounters with children. Generating ethnographic, interview and video stimulated recall data, the project has filled an important gap in our knowledge of ordinary everyday practice and how it can be understood developed and enhanced.

Further information: G.Ruch@sussex.ac.uk

Practice Research

CSWIR has a firm and foundational commitment to supporting small scale research that is closely aligned with practice. Highlights of the past year include the imaginative work being undertaken by Rebecca Watts (Social Work and Social Care & Brighton and Hove City Council) to revise child care social work reporting practices for children in care so they are more child focussed and friendly.


Me and My World: Developing practice and procedure with children in care

Rebecca Watts, Lead Practitioner, Brighton and Hove City Council, Co-Director of Practice Learning, University of Sussex & Professor Gillian Ruch, University of Sussex.

Since November 2018, Rebecca Watts, Lead Practitioner with Brighton and Hove City Council has been supported by Professor Gillian Ruch, CSWIR Director, to undertake an evaluation of the Me and My World model for working with children in care. The model promotes child-centred practice by emphasising social workers’ relationships with children in care, uses reports where social workers write directly to the child, places an emphasis on capturing holistic information to aid life story work and ensures that Child in Care Reviews incorporate direct work activities to promote the genuine participation of children and young people. The Me and My World model also requires foster carers to write letters to children in their care every six months. The overall aim of the model is to create a system that can meet core statutory functions at the same time as promoting child-centred, relationship-based practice. The research has included a documentary analysis of Me and My World Reports and focus groups with social workers, foster carers and Independent Reviewing Officers to capture their experience of implementing the model. Individual interviews will be undertaken with children and young people between the ages of 6-16 to explore their experiences too. The final report is due to be completed by the end of September 2019. Findings from the research will aim to embed the model further and consider how any challenges to further implementation might be overcome to support relationship-based practice with children in care.

South Coast Regional Centre Teaching Partnership Practice Research Hub

The Practice Research Hub, co-chaired by Professor Gillian Ruch with University of Brighton colleague, Cath Holmstrom, is a unique feature of the South Coast Regional Centre Teaching Partnership. It continues to play a pivotal role in supporting practitioners to develop their research mindedness and undertake research. As part of the Hub’s commitment to promoting practice research academic colleagues from Sussex and Brighton Universities are supporting practitioners from adult and children’s services in East Sussex and Brighton and Hove to undertake a range of research projects. 

Anna Bouch, a social work practitioner in Brighton and Hove’s Adult Care services, supported by University of Brighton colleagues (Jackie Lelkes and Cath Holmstrom) is the first practitioner to complete her project entitled ‘Wellbeing: From Concept to Practice?’:

“In the summer of 2019, results from the first collaborative project between the HEIs University of Brighton and Sussex and the Local Authorities at Brighton and East Sussex, were accepted for presentation at a national conference. The Practice Research Hub (PRH) of the Teaching Partnership, co-chaired by Professor Gillian Ruch, University of Sussex, and Cath Holmstrom, University of Brighton, was invaluable in providing the initial impetus, ongoing steering and structures to enable this, and other collaborations between the HEIs and Local Authorities, to reach fruition. This ambitious research project involved interviewing 36 social workers about their understanding of the concept of ‘well-being.’ Using thematic analysis on individual and group interviews we discovered interesting differences depending on the practitioners ‘cognitive style’ and whether they were thinking about well-being for a person who lacked or retained mental capacity. The results will inform the design of practitioners’ assessment recording tools, agendas for group supervision and help target training. We are currently preparing the results of the project for a co-authored journal publication.

The PRH is instrumental in ensuring that opportunities for collaboration between the Universities of Brighton and Sussex and their local authority partners are taken up. Of additional note is how the PRH has driven the model of collaborative working on projects which in turn has increased the research-mindedness of social work practitioners in the local authorities; practitioners involved in this research project fed back that the process itself had been valuable, giving them a chance to come together to wrestle with difficult concepts within a research context.”

Overview of practice research projects

  • Does the complaint (complainant parents) affect the risk assessment and decision-making abilities of social workers?
    Principal Researcher: Shabana Warne, Brighton & Hove City Council Children's Services
  • What is the impact of SWIFT assessments in the context of cases involved in/at risk of legal proceedings?
    Principal Researcher: Anna Wilson, East Sussex County Council Children’s Services
  • Do we achieve the Family Court agreed care plan for children within the planned timeframe?
    Principal Researcher: Emma Johnson, East Sussex County Council Children’s Services.
  • Wellbeing: From concept to practice?
    Principal Researchers: Anna Bouch, Brighton & Hove City Council Adult Services & Jackie Lelkes, University of Brighton
  • What Really Helps? The lived experience of cuckooing victims; a thematic analysis
    Researcher: Sebastian Barens, East Sussex County Council Adult Services
  • Exploring how the role of social work is understood in a multidisciplinary hospital setting which delivers three different models of integrated care
    Researcher: Elmien Brink, Brighton & Hove City Council Adult Services

Further information: G.Ruch@sussex.ac.uk

Previous Research Projects

Beyond the Risk Paradigm in Mental Health Policy and Practice

Research funder: Book contract with Palgrave

The ‘mentality of risk’ can obscure and distort the lived experience of mental health problems. The multiple structural disadvantages those living with mental illness experience are exacerbated and perpetuated, generating specific dilemmas for mental health practitioners and those in mental health leadership roles. Foregrounding mental health risks as issues of human rights and social justice can help policy makers, managers and practitioners to ‘speak back’ to the distortions of the risk paradigm. CSWIR members have a longstanding commitment to speaking back to the risk paradigm in this way, in critical and practical terms alike.

In 2016 and 2017, CSWIR members collaborated with colleagues from the Universities of Tasmania, Connecticut and Kent to co-edit one of three books exploring the dominance and impact of ‘the risk paradigm’ respectively in mental health, child protection and criminal justice policy and practice contexts.  The first of these volumes, ‘Beyond the Risk Paradigm in Mental Health Policy and Practice’, brings together researchers, practitioners and mental health service users to engage critically with how ‘risk thinking’ has come to dominate discourses and practices in the mental health field. Highlighted in particular are the theoretical, policy, ethical and practice controversies that arise in work with ‘risky’ and ‘at risk’ populations and individuals.

Further information: E.Sharland@sussex.ac.uk

Identifying and learning from best practice in self-neglect

Research funder: Department of Health, UK

Cases of self-neglect are complex and pose ethical and practice dilemmas for social workers and other practitioners, who must negotiate between the demands of respect for autonomy and of a duty to promote safety and wellbeing. A diversity of factors contribute to self-neglect and services have not always adequately engaged with the complexities of individual autonomy and decision-making in these circumstances. Self-neglect presents distinctive challenges in assessment, intervention, multiagency working, risk management and safeguarding governance.

In collaboration with the University of Bedfordshire, CSWIR members have carried out research with practitioners, managers and people in situations of self-neglect, and collated and analysed the learning from a set of serious case reviews, which has laid the foundations of an emerging evidence base for self-neglect work within England. Findings have shed light on the lived experience of self-neglect, identified promising approaches to engagement with people who self-neglect, shown the need for strong legal literacy, suggested mechanisms for coordinating inter-professional intervention, and emphasised the importance of organisational support for timely involvement with individuals. Work is ongoing with Safeguarding Adults Boards and the organisation Research in Practice for Adults (RiPfA) to ensure that the lessons from the research findings feed through into frontline practice.

Contact: D.Orr@sussex.ac.uk

Evaluating the role and impact of innovative models of interfacing between the NHS and children’s social care

Research funder: Department of Health, National Institute of Health Research, UK

Revival of intense public concern cross-nationally about the prevalence of neglect, abuse and (sexual) exploitation of children has generated a significant challenge to the hegemony of long established policy and practice assumptions in child protection in many service jurisdictions. England is no exception and CSWIR members have been at the forefront alongside statutory bodies and colleagues in partner research centres in making sense of the new political conjuncture and its impact on social work and allied professional roles and tasks. Comparative policy perspectives are being brought to bear in this expanding body of work, which asks fundamental questions about the distinctive nature of the contribution of social work to new articulations of inter-disciplinary and multi-professional theory and practice in safeguarding children and supporting family life. A core consideration here is how best to re-design practice systems which might contain and channel legitimately and effectively the tension between contrasting rights attaching to children, understood with their parents as being active participants in achieving safety and self-determination in family life.

In collaboration with public health researchers at the University of Warwick Medical School and colleagues at Loughborough University, Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR), a review of the literature and case study evaluation of innovative models of safeguarding was undertaken for the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). Project findings confirmed that despite policy exhortation in support of better alignment of (public) health perspectives and social work little progress has been made on the ground in embedding this thinking into practice and evaluating impact, especially from the perspective of children and parents as agents in the protection process. The main finding from the CSWIR-led review was that safeguarding should be understood as a process involving dialogue as well as diagnosis. ‘Dialogic integrity’ should be a key commitment informing service development and framing evaluation research.

Further information: B.A.Luckock@sussex.ac.uk

Piloting and evaluating the practice efficacy of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner ‘See Me, Hear Me’ Framework

Research funder: Office of the Children’s Commissioner, UK

Working alongside the OCC and with colleagues in three local authorities in England (Brighton and Hove CC, Oxfordshire CC and Sandwell MBC, a team of CSWIR researchers is exploring ways in which a child’s-rights centred approach to safeguarding can be developed effectively, in the context of ‘sexual exploitation’.  With social anxiety and political demands intensified in recent years there is a risk that children will be positioned too simply in policy and practice once again, being seen as ‘objects of concern’ alone. The ‘See Me, Hear Me Framework’ is distinctive in seeking to secure for children not only their right to safety in the face of newly identified threats but also their right to a say in the process. Foundational here is the role played by trusting relationships formed with ‘child protection’ professionals, including social workers and police. How can operational practices and organisational systems be designed to support such relationships in these anxious and fraught encounters, where the pressure is on to show quick results?


Further information: M.Lefevre@sussex.ac.uk or K.Hickle@sussex.ac.uk

Innovation in Children’s Social Care

Research funder: Department for Education (2015-2020)

The University of Sussex, represented by CSWIR (in collaboration with the University of Sussex Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth (CIRCY) and the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Centre for Adoption Research), has been contracted by the Department for Education to undertake implementation and impact evaluations of four ‘Stage 1’, Innovation Programme projects. This £200m two-stage, five-year reform Programme was aimed at stimulating the design and implementation of effective practice systems and interventions and their embedding in agencies across England, such that social work impact is enhanced. The three Stage 1 studies led by CSWIR members focused on new approaches to social work practice with children, from first involvement designed to support family life at home (Islington LBC), through to practice designed to achieve ‘early permanence’ for children who have to live elsewhere (Cornerstone, Coram).

Stage 2 of the Programme through to 2020 is still underway and CSWIR members are working closely with three local authorities and one independent user-led organisation to align Centre research expertise with local project leadership and development to secure funding for further innovation. [see also: [hyperlink to ‘current and recent projects’:] Contextual Safeguarding Evaluation, London Borough of Hackney]

Further information: B.A.Luckock@sussex.ac.uk or K.Hickle@sussex.ac.uk

Empower Families

Research funder: Safer London, UK

Dr Kristine Hickle undertook a 2-year evaluation of Safer London’s [https://saferlondon.org.uk/] new programme named ‘Empower Families’ aimed at supporting parents and carers of children and young people identified as having experience (or at risk of) child sexual exploitation.

Further information: K.Hickle@sussex.ac.uk

‘Scaling Up and Digging Down’: Exploring developmental issues arising in the implementation of the Family Nurse Partnership model

Research funder: Collaborative studentship between University of Sussex and Family Nurse Partnership

Introduced in 2007 under the auspices of the Department of Health, the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) is a licensed, intensive, preventive home visiting programme offered to vulnerable young mothers having their first baby. FNP commences its support in early pregnancy and continues until the child is two years old, seeking to develop attuned, emotionally supportive relationships, especially between the primary care giver and the child. The programme goals are to improve antenatal health, child development and economic self-sufficiency and it is delivered by specially trained family nurses. Three large scale research trials have shown significant and consistent short and long term benefits to children and parents. However, as systems can be as, if not more, difficult to alter than people it is imperative that research is undertaken that explores the obstacles to and opportunities for integrating the FNP model into the FNP specific organizational structures and the wider structures underpinning public health programmes and services available to young children and their parents in England. Such research, however, is complicated by the impact of the professional and societal anxiety underpinning work with vulnerable families, and particularly defenceless infants on organisational functioning. To explore these issues the collaborative studentship is developing a fine-grained, qualitative methodology that will complement the current, largescale evaluation of the FNP project. Drawing on psychosocial and ecological theoretical frameworks the research adopted an innovative approach to understanding the implications of complex organisational dynamics on the implementation of the FNP model. Founded on the premise that organisations are comprised of visible and invisible practices and structures that arise in response to the anxiety inherent in the organisation’s primary task, the study explored, through a psychosocial lens, the nature and extent of the dynamics operating ‘beneath the surface’ of the organisations in which the FNP model operates.

Further information: G.Ruch@sussex.ac.uk

Social Work and Extreme Events (SWEE) Network

Research funder: University of Sussex

Support for people facing natural disasters and political conflicts presents an on-going challenge for both countries directly affected by such extreme events and those trying to provide assistance when they happen. Contemporary practices during such extreme events have several common traits. First, the majority of emergency and even long-term support is mainly provided by international organisations, rather than local governmental organisations and other local stakeholders. Second, because of this, existing knowledge is about relevant support is not necessarily generated or held by local experts and support agencies. While they do collaborate on such endeavours, the majority of knowledge is held and shared on international and supranational level. Finally, while there is evidence and knowledge regarding emergency responses, less is known about the support for long-term reconstruction and support in countries affected by political conflicts and natural disasters.

Extreme events such as natural disasters and political conflicts do not impact all groups in the same manner. People who use social services, such as children (particularly children without parental care), people with disabilities (including people with mental health problems), and older people’s existing support needs increase and/or require specialist attention within the broader community level responses.

Further information: R.A.Maglajlic@sussex.ac.uk

Learning from the Communication Process between Social Workers and Children to Improve Social Work Practice

Research funder: Sussex University Research Development Fund

The home visit to families is a key tool for assessing and working with families and is the place most conversations with children occur.  However, little is known about what really goes on during these encounters. This pilot study tested the feasibility of social workers videoing their interactions with children in the family or foster home and then subjecting it to Conversation Analysis, a linguistics-based method of micro-analysing talk.  Children and social workers were also asked to comment on the videos of their encounters.  By learning more about the ways in which social workers can navigate sensitive topics in challenging circumstances with children who may be angry, frightened or anxious, we aim to establish a model for good practice.

Further information: M.Lefevre@sussex.ac.uk

People in My Life: A conceptual and technological exploration of relationship dynamics for social work practice

Research funder: Jacobs Foundation

Dr Sevasti-Melissa Nolas and Dr Lel Meleyal collaborated with colleagues at the Free University in Berlin (Antje Rauers) and Hasselt University in Hasselt (Johannes Schoning). ‘People in my life’ is an innovation project that explores relationship dynamics for social work practice. In particular, the team experimented with haptic technology in order to create a tablet-based app that can be used with figurines to play out and track the movement of different relationships in child’s life.

Death and the social work and allied professional response: Meeting Child Death at Work

Research funder: University of Sussex

Interdisciplinary perspectives are especially helpful in making sense of the psychosocial dynamics of social work and allied professional encounters, where death the focus of concern. The sociology of ‘emotional labour’ emerges as a substantive and theoretical resource for thinking about the difference between effective and ineffective ways in which emotion is managed in practice encounters triggered by death. Sudden, unexpected child death in the home is an event which reaches to the centre of concerns about the balance to be struck in multi-professional practice between systematic statutory investigation and sensitive support. Foundational doctoral research undertaken from a psychosocial perspective is being combined with a systematic review of the field at the interface with sociology to support the development of new theory and practice in this field. The ‘Rapid Response’ after a child’s death includes forensic investigation from police, health, and social care professionals, followed by a series of multi-agency meetings leading to a Child Death Review. Although the needs of bereaved parents and other family members are meant to be respected within this process, the evidence is that professionals own struggle to cope with the demands of the emotional task can leave families having to deal with the aftermath largely unsupported.

Further information: L.F.Marrable@sussex.ac.uk

Digital Socialisation and the Social Work Curriculum: #ASYEngage

Research funder: University of Sussex

Supported by the University of Sussex Research Opportunities Fund, #ASYEngage brought together CSWIR researchers and social work practitioners in East Sussex, Brighton and Hove and the voluntary sector, to explore the ways in which newly qualified workers encounter digital platforms within their practice. Research participants kept reflective blogs and used these to record significant incidents precipitated by social networking or digital technology. The result was a vivid record of the practice challenges and opportunities created by digital technology. Further work funded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) and undertaken in association with the Sussex Digital Humanities Lab brought together practitioners, learning technologists, social work students and developers in skills sessions aimed at developing a bespoke digital curriculum for social work education.  This project featured in The Guardian Social Care Network.

Extending and Innovating Social Work Research Methodologies: Social work over time

Research funder: Nuffield Foundation, UK

This Nuffield Foundation funded project, undertaken in collaboration with colleagues from Universities of Cardiff and Lancaster, used secondary analysis of four national longitudinal cohort or panel surveys (British Household Panel Survey, Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, Millennium Cohort Study and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) to look at the predictors and outcomes of routine social work use among children and parents in Britain since the early 1990s. The project explored the predictors and outcomes of routine social work use among children and parents in Britain since the early 1990s. Largescale quantitative analysis of this sort is relatively rare in UK social work research. Use of these national datasets is even rarer. But they have unique potential to allow us to follow children and families over time, and to compare the circumstances and outcomes of those who use social work with similar others in the general population who do not. This research produced some expected and some unexpected findings. Among the predictors of social work contact were single parenthood, divorce or separation, parents’ poor health or disability, homelessness and precarious financial circumstances. Teenagers were more likely to receive social work if they were female, mixed race, came from lower socio-economic status families or had special needs or poor relationships with their parents. More surprising, and at face value concerning, was that in general families and children who had contact with social workers reported worse mental health, wellbeing and educational outcomes than others who appear to have experienced similar adversities but did not have social work contact. How might we explain these findings? Is the self-report method of the original surveys sound in itself? We do not know how and why contact with social work took place, nor about the focus of the intervention or the family and social circumstances in each case. What is now clear is the need for much better longitudinal data about social work than we still have, and better linkage of this information to social work administrative datasets.

Further information: E.Sharland@sussex.ac.uk

Developing and Evaluating ‘Mentalizing’ Capacity and Skill in Qualifying Social Work Education

Research funder: Department for Education, UK

Attachment theory provides a developmental account of the psychosocial dynamics of the social work relationship in practice. The evidence-base for the salience of core concepts, such as ‘reflective functioning capacity’ and ‘mentalization’, used in this approach to ‘relationship-based’ practice is now well-developed in clinical professions in psychotherapy and psychology. Undertaken in collaboration with clinicians and researchers at the Anna Freud Centre, London, and social work educators and statisticians at the University of East Anglia, this Department for Education, National Prospectus Grants Programme-funded project developed and trialled a novel measure of reflective functioning/mentalization capacity for use in social work education and beyond.


'Many Minds': Supporting adoptive family life through the social work relationship

Research funder: ESRC/CoramBAAF

The School of Education and Social Work was keen to become a Founding Institutional Sponsor of the new Association for Psychosocial Studies, which emerged out of the Psychosocial Studies Network in 2014. CSWIR members took the lead in convening and supporting a ‘Many Minds’ forum at Sussex, in which new frontiers of psychosocial research methodology were explored. New methodologies were applied within funded faculty research projects and doctoral work alike, providing and exciting new set of synergies across all levels of research in the Centre.

A growing body of psychosocial work uses longitudinal observational methods to examine everyday practice in social work. This doctoral research employed a single case study design to illuminate the significance of the relationship between a social worker and a prospective adoptive parent.  Drawing on methods from within the tradition of infant observation developed at the Tavistock, the emotional dynamic of ‘adoption support’ as observed and experienced by the researcher was tracked over time. Consistent with the method, stakeholders in adoption were brought together as a 'Many Minds’ group to examine observation notes in a facilitated and structured forum. This group acted as a research body through which emerging themes from the observation experience were noted, examined and considered over time.

Sims, Louise (2018) What happens in the making of an adoptive family? Rethinking matching in adoptions from care. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.