Department of Social Work and Social Care


The Department of Social Work and Social Care is a creative, outward-looking unit whose members are internationally regarded as trusted experts, pioneers and influencers in our interdisciplinary research, policy and practice fields.

REF 2021

KitbagWe're delighted with our performance in the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF 2021).

The School of Education & Social Work made submissions to two Units of Assessment
(Education and Social Work & Social Policy). Each received a different set of grades:

Transforming: REF 2021Our Social Work & Social Care Department research (as submitted to UoA 20 – Social Work & Social Policy) was assessed overall to be 23% ‘world leading’ (4*) and 72% ‘internationally excellent’ (3*).

Outputs were assessed as 21% ‘world leading’ and 71.1% ‘internationally excellent’.

Research Impact was judged to be 25% ‘outstanding’ and 75% ‘internationally excellent’.

Research Environment was judged to be 25% ‘world leading’ and 75% ‘internationally excellent’.

Across the University of Sussex as a whole, 89% of research activity submitted was categorised as either ‘world-leading’ (40.6%) or ‘internationally excellent’ (48.4%). Additionally, the proportion of Sussex Research Impact assessed as 'outstanding' has increased from 35.3% to 50.0% (by 14.7%) since the REF 2014 exercise. The results of REF2021 were published on 12 May 2022.


See all REF results and read the stories behind the research we submitted.

Our research engages with challenges faced by local and global communities, bringing conceptual and methodological rigour and imagination to our core research areas:

  • Professional practice, innovation and effectiveness
  • Wellbeing
  • Childhood and youth

As a small unit we ensure that our research and teaching cross-fertilise, underpinning our reputation for developing resourceful researchers, research-minded professionals, and future leaders. We are committed to the highest standards of research integrity and transparency, including ensuring our work is openly available to those who can benefit from it. Our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion is embedded in a diverse research culture where researchers can thrive at all career stages.

Research in the Department of Social Work and Social Care sits within the context of the Sussex 2025 Research with Impact strategy including a  School-level strategic vision for our research that:

  • makes a difference to policy, practice and lived experience
  • is informed by a rigorous, critical and ethical perspective on knowledge production
  • actively engages with those who have a stake in our work
  • builds research-capacity, including via co-production.

Our research centres

At the heart of the Department’s research environment sit three interdisciplinary research centres – critical intellectual communities embracing our three core research areas. Our researchers are also actively involved in the University’s strategic research developments including the Sussex Humanities Lab (SHL) and the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Centre for Adoption Research and Practice.


Mental Health & Wellbeing book coverMental Health and Wellbeing: Intercultural Perspectives (Red Globe Press, 2020)
Author: Charles Watters

Charles Watters' (Professor of Wellbeing and Social Care) new book looks beyond the Western tradition at dynamic intercultural influences on models of mental health and wellbeing. The book has been praised by leading academics and policy makers.
Professor Ilse Derluyn of Ghent University comments "It will fundamentally transform our current and future views on wellbeing and mental health in globalised contexts".
Professor Kevin Fenton, Regional Director at Public Health England comments "It provides novel insights into the impact of population transitions on paradigms and practices that support mental wellbeing, with exciting implications for public policy". 

Researching Everyday Childhoods book coverResearching Everyday Childhoods (Bloomsbury, 2018)
Authors: Rachel Thomson, Liam Berriman & Sara Bragg

The story of an innovative and interdisciplinary project exploring children’s everyday lives in a digital age. Using a qualitative longitudinal research design, the project followed the lives of fourteen children and teenagers over 12 months, documenting their relationships with digital media. The study involved methodological experimentation with new digital methods of documentation and archiving, as well as innovative ethical approaches for negotiating with children and families how the research data would be used within and beyond the project. Each chapter in the book is authored by different members of the project’s research team, presenting key findings around key concepts such as play, protection, gender, technology, schooling and intimacy. The book also provides practical guides for using and adapting the project’s research methods.  The project was made possible by funding from the AHRC and ESRC and was a collaboration between the Sussex Humanities Lab and CIRCY.

Communicating and engaging book coverCommunicating and engaging with children and young people: Making a difference
(Policy Press, 2018)
Author: Michelle Lefevre

Social workers need to communicate and engage sensitively and effectively with children and young people if they are going to make a real difference to their lives. Yet there is much evidence that such ‘direct work’ remains one of the most challenging areas of practice, particularly when there are concerns about children and young people’s welfare and safety. Framed around an innovative ‘Knowing, Being, Doing’ model, based on the author’s research, this book is designed to enable students and practitioners to develop the capabilities needed for collaborative, relational, rights-based, and child-centred social work.  

Our doctoral research culture and community

The Department of Social Work and Social Care is home to a diverse cohort of doctoral researchers, drawn from across the world. Consistent with our areas of research specialism, they can choose pathways in:

Paul Shuttleworth awardThe Department’s commitment to interdisciplinarity is further reflected in the number of doctoral researchers involved in cross-school and cross-university supervisions.

The quality of doctoral research in the Department is reflected in the number sponsored by external funders.These include domestic and international organisations, as well as those funded as a consequence of the University’s membership of the South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS) Doctoral Training Partnership.

Social Work and Social Care doctoral researchers are actively involved in all aspects of its work, including that of its three research centres. Their activities are supported by Social Work PhD convenor, Gillian Ruch (Professor of Social Work),, and by by Director of Doctoral Studies, Charles Watters (Professor of Wellbeing and Social Care).

Caption: Social Work and Social Care PhD Doctoral Researcher, Paul Shuttleworth, won first place at the University's doctoral research poster competition (part of a 'Festival of Docroral Research) in June 2019. Paul's poster, 'Absent Voices: Where Are Children's Accounts Of Being In Kinship Care?' was based around the findings from his thesis literature review.

Find out more about becoming a doctoral researcher within the Department of Social Work and Social Care.


Our research excellence and impact through national and international collaborations

Imagining Resistance

Led by Dr Kristi Hickle (Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Social Care), this project aims to use participatory photography with young people affected by sexual and interpersonal violence to explore the ways in which young people develop resilience through acts of resistance. It seeks to engage theoretically with the concept of resistance and practically with young people's lived experiences. It will ultimately inform intervention services by demonstrating and documenting new and novel ways for engaging marginalised young people in creative practices and, in doing so, bring arts and humanities perspectives into a field generally dominated by social scientific and professional discourses of evidence-based practice, child protection, safeguarding, and risk. It is hoped that the research will contribute to discussions on the wider ethical implications inherent in challenging conventional discourses in safeguarding practices, and seek new creative, participatory ways to tackle intractable problems, such as child sexual exploitation.

Laia project graphUnderstanding ethnic inequalities
in later life

Over the course of their lives, ethnic minority people have poorer health and wellbeing than the White majority population. Less is known about ethnic inequalities at later stages in the life course. It is well documented that ethnic inequalities in child and adult health are likely to be due to experiences of marginalisation and racial discrimination, and as ethnic minority populations grow older it will become increasingly important to get a more precise and differentiated understanding of the extent of, and the reasons behind, ethnic inequalities in later life. This knowledge will be imperative in planning social and health-related policies and delivering interventions targeted at reducing ethnic inequalities. A new project being led by Dr Laia Becares (Senior Lectrer in Applied Social Science), addresses these gaps in knowledge by using innovative methods to analyse existing Census and survey data to provide information on (i) the nature of ethnic inequalities in health, wellbeing, and socioeconomic circumstances at older ages, (ii) why these inequalities exist, and (iii) whether, how and why they have changed in the past 20 years. Findings from the project will create societal impact by improving ethnic minority people’s lives through better understanding of the issues affecting their life chances and healthy ageing.

The Reanimating Data Project posterTeenage time travel

Professor Rachel Thomson's team working on the 'Teenage Time Travel' study propose that old research data can be ‘reanimated’, ie. re-used to create present value. Focusing on the sexual cultures of young people (in the 1980s and today) the team is combining participatory and archival methods, generating creative outputs (a theatre performance, a quilt, a sound installation and an open-access archive), new pedagogies for youth work and original socio-historical insight. The project transforms social science by building communities of educators, activists and researchers around open-access digital archives, an approach that is critical, sustainable and in tune with the demands of social distancing. An online archive has more information.

CIRCY AR cover 2020

Driving forward innovation to address extra-familial risks in adolescence

Professor Michelle Lefevre is leading the Innovate Project, a pan-UK, four year, £1.9 million project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and led by the University of Sussex, in collaboration with the Universities of Bedfordshire and Oxford and NGOs the Innovation Unit, Research in Practice, and Become. The study explores the barriers and levers to innovation in social care by examining how new practice systems and methods are being developed in six sites around the country which are seeking to address extra-familial risks facing young people - such as child exploitation. The project will look at the processes and outcomes related to three frameworks upon which innovation is being built: (i) Trauma-informed Practice, (ii) Contextual Safeguarding, and (iii) Transitional Safeguarding. The study will inform innovation practice, improve the design and delivery of social care, and enhance service experiences and outcomes for vulnerable young people and their families.

ME-WE (MEntal Health & WEllbeing)

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Social Work and Social Policy, Saul Becker, and Research Fellow, Feylyn Lewis (Social Work and Social Care), are leading the “ME-WE” (MEntal Health & WEllbeing) project, funded by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 programme. The project will complete Summer 2021 after 3 years of research activities. The project aimed to strengthen the resilience of young carers aged 15-17, improve their mental health and well-being, and mitigate the negative influences of psychosocial and environmental factors. Through the use of an online survey developed by the UoS team, the project produced the first-ever profile of an European Adolescent Young Carer. The project also developed an innovative framework of primary prevention interventions tested through an randomized control trial and adapted in six European countries (Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom) at different stages of awareness and development of services for young carers. Researchers engaged directly with and involve young carers, together with major stakeholders (educators, health and social care professionals, youth organisations, carer organisations) via national Blended Learning Networks, user groups, workshops, and in an International Advisory and Ethics Board. The project has had international impact, improving young carers’ mental health and well-being, educational outcomes, transition, employability and social inclusion, as well as creating evidence-based practices, to improve health equity and societal benefits. Notably, the UoS team has presented its research findings in conferences throughout the world, including France, Norway, Switzerland, Portugal, and the United States of America, culminating in a symposium delivered in the European Parliament in Brussels.

Kitbag 2021Talking and Listening to Children: Putting Kitbag to Work

Over the past two years Gillian Ruch, Professor of Social Work, has been collaborating with the Scottish charity International Futures Forum (IFF), to introduce Kitbag - an IFF inspired resource designed to promote children's wellbeing - into social work practice. In 2020, Gillian's research team successfully bid for What Works Centre for Children's Social Care funding to purchase Kitbags for all social workers and foster/kinship carers in four local authorities - a practice intervention to be launched in May 2021 involving 'Designated Kitbag Leads' in each local authority participating in monthly workshops to help to develop skills to support colleagues embed Kitbags in their everyday practice. This exciting initiative will be accompanied by an independent evaluation conducted by the What Works Centre, enabling the opportunity to see how Kitbag impacts on children and families' experiences of social work interventions, social workers/carers practice, and the wider organisational culture.

Our research performance

This is the School’s first Research Performance Report.

A wide range of research information systems have been used to prepare the graphs and present the data. This first report celebrates our research excellence and showcases a cross-section of our research culture and capabilities. It also highlights the importance and breadth of our strategic partnerships, and the dynamic and mutually beneficial relationships we have forged with businesses and other organisations for the benefit of all involved and wider community. Most of our collaborations are interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary, and all relationships are bespoke.

This report will be useful for members of academic staff, doctoral researchers and the wider research community.

More about us

The School’s Academic Lead for Impact is Professor Elaine Sharland.

Strategic oversight of all aspects of research across the School is undertaken by the Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange, Professor Mario Novelli.

We welcome enquiries from visiting researchers, aspiring doctoral researchers and potential research collaborators.