Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth

Other short examples of our research

Research undertaken by CIRCY members is supported by a range of funders, including the ESRC, the Office for the Children's Commissioner and the National Centre for Social Research Methods. Here are details of some of the larger projects we have undertaken in the arena of childhood and youth - within CIRCY as well as other research centres and Schools at the University of Sussex.


Ben Highmore (Media and Film) was awarded an AHRC Leadership Fellowship for his project ‘Playgrounds: A Material Cultural Study of Post-1945 Playgrounds’, from October 2021 to March 2023. Working with Hannah Field (English), they are investigating the recent history of playgrounds: their design, their day-to-day existence, the infrastructures that supported them, and the communities they fostered. Based on extensive archival research it is drawing on: accounts of playground campaigns; architectural plans for playgrounds; photographic records of the building of playgrounds and of play activities; diaries of playground leaders; and the ephemera of leaflets, posters and DIY instructions that constitute a dynamic aspect of playground culture. The research is particularly interested in how informal and formal infrastructures develop to sustain playground culture: instructions for the training of playground leaders; international associations for playground advocacy; self-help playground literature; and a promotional literature for specific playgrounds. These infrastructures aren't simply offering practical support: they are also offering a world of care and concern - an infrastructure of feeling.

Child Labour in Agri-food Systems 

Dorte Thorsen (IDS) led a small team of researchers from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the Centre for International Education (CIE) undertaking a global review of the effects of COVID-19 policy and programming responses on child labour in agri-food systems. Due to the paucity in empirical data on children’s work, the team adopted a case study methodology and reviewed secondary information on agri-food systems in nine countries to make inferences about how the various effects of Covid-19 mitigation measures impacted on the likelihood of children’s work tipping into the categories of child labour (working at an early age or working long hours relative to age) and hazardous work (doing work that might be harmful). Other researchers in the project included Sara Humphreys, Justin Flynn, and Máiréad Dunne (Education) with assistance from doctoral researchers, Julian Neef and Neha Yadav.

Improving Outcomes for Children known to Social Care

It is increasingly recognized that the wellbeing and life chances of children and young people who become involved with social work and social care services due to safeguarding risks are particularly vulnerable. Louise Gazeley won a £40k tender from Essex Children’s Services to study multi-agency working to improve the educational outcomes of children known to Social Care. The aims of the research include: identifying barriers to and opportunities for closer working; enhancing shared understanding of roles and remits; identifying routes to more effective intervention with young people known to social care; and supporting the development of culture of high aspirations for young people’s educational outcomes. The research team includes Julia Sutherland (education), Tam Cane and Michelle Lefevre (Social Work and Social Care), supported by doctoral researchers Greg Campbell and Hannah Olle.

Disrupting Exploitation

Kristi Hickle (Social Work and Social Care) won a tender to evaluate the Children’s Society’s Disrupting Exploitation Phase II programme. The evaluation is utilising a Contribution Analysis methodology to consider the programme’s impact on the lives of young people who are affected by criminal exploitation in Manchester, Birmingham, and London. The three year project is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and includes, as Co-Investigators, Lisa Holmes  leading the Cost Effectiveness analysis, and Michelle Lefevre leading engagement with Learning Partners. Nat Cen is an external partner, supporting with quantitative data analysis of system pattern and outcome data, and service costs.

"We exist too!"

The project '"We Exist Too": Young trans perspectives on legal gender recognition laws in England and Wales' was conducted by Maria Moscati (Law) with Peter Dunner from the University of Bristol. The pair sought to listen to, document and disseminate the voices of trans young people aged 13-17 years old. In particular, the project pursued four main objectives: (i) to investigate the extent to which trans children and adolescents areaware of gender recognition; (ii) to consider how (and whether) legal exclusion impacts young tras lives; (iii) to ask how (and whether) trans youth believe that children should be incorporated into the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA); and (iv) to disseminate the results among young people, policymakers and academics.

Drawing on a children's rights persective which emphasises the voices of children, this project provided original data on how trans young people in England are experiencing legal invisibility. The project adipted a participative methodology which employed four main methods: semi-structured interviews; focus groups; diary writing; and artistic expression. It was developed in collaboration with Gendered Intelligence, a Community Interest Company whose object is to deliver arts programmes and creative workshops to trabs youth across the UK.

Zoom or Room and Covid-19: Effectiveness and guidance for in-person versus online video interaction guidance (VIG) intervention sessions

Carried out in late 2019, this project took the opportunity of the sudden move to online therapeutic conversations to ask what can support a well-attuned online conversation - specifically looking at how meeting online changes the nature of an interaction. With parents getting advice about family relationships, and children being assessed for their needs via video rather than face-to-face, researchers asked how we might ensure that communication is as attuned as possible. Ultimately, the project developed guidelines for online therapeutic discussions.

Research was funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) - Applied Research Collaboration - Kent, Surrey and Sussex and was run by Nicola Yuill and Devyn Glass of the Children and Technology Lab (ChatLab), School of Psychology, and Zubeida Dasgupta, a trainer and supervisor in Video Interaction Guidance (VIG). 

Contact Nicola Yuill for more information.

Beyond Lockdown

The 'Beyond Lockdown' project was led by Valerie Dunn from the Creative Research Collective, and Helen Drew (Psychology). It was commissioned as a 5 month 'rapid research' project by the newly established National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) - AppliedResearch Collaboration - Kent, Surrey and Sussex and investigated the impact of the pandemic on care leavers' mental health and wellbeing, connectedness and everyday lives. Working with care leavers, the pair aimed to co-produce messages for services to facilitate provision of timely, informed support, and messages for care leavers to guide them thorugh the post-lockdown transition.

There were two phases to the research: Phase 1 constituted a national online survey run for four weeks during July 2020. Summary survey data was discussed in Phase 2 and key messages drafted in two rounds of online Care Leaver Expert Working Groups in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. A detailed summary of findings, co-produced messages to services and care leavers, and pledges from the communities of practice are available on the Kent Surrey Sussex Acadeic Health Science Network website.

For further information, contact beyond-lockdown@sussex.ac.uk.

Beyond Lockdown project logo

Research into Practice Direction 12J:
What is the experience of lawyers working in private law children cases?

Research produced in partnership with the Sussex Family Justice Quality Circle (FJQC), Kent and Sussex FLBA, and East and West Sussex Resolution

Practice Direction 12J was revised in 2017 to guide the family courts, CAFCASS and practitioners in cases that involve domestic abuse and coercive control when there are questions about where a child should live, or about contact between a child and a parent or other family member.  As there was little known about how the new regime was working, the Sussex Family Justice Quality Circle (FJQC), Kent and Sussex FLBA, and East and West Sussex Resolution, approached CIRCY to research this, given the existing partnership engagement with members of the Department of Social Work and Social Care. 

Professor Michelle Lefevre and Dr Jeri Damman worked with the group, particularly Richard Ager, Barrister and Joint Chair of Kent and Sussex Family Law Bar Association, to design and analyse a survey which was completed by 66 lawyers. The report was published on 11 February 2020.

Evaluation of Pause

A team from the University of Sussex, working with Research in Practice and Ipsos Mori, has been commissioned by the UK government (Department for Education - DfE) to do an independent research project to learn about the work of Pause.  DfE provide funding for Pause through the Innovation Programme, and they want to learn more about the work that Pause do - and how it might be improved or developed in future.

The project has three parts:

  1. Talking to women who are working with Pause – or have worked with them in the past – to learn from their ideas and experiences.
  2. Talking to a range of professionals - including people who work for Pause - to learn about the work they do.
  3. Analysing anonymous information collected by Pause practices - and by local authorities where Pause practices are based - to learn about patterns of change over time for women who work with Pause.

Email Janet Boddy who is leading the work ifor further information.

Watch this short film made for women who have been working with Pause to find out more about what would be involved in taking part in the research. 

Beyond Contact

Nuffield Foundation logoFunded by the Nuffield Foundation

In England, placement within the looked-after system is not viewed as a desirable long-term solution for most children, and policy has prioritised continued contact with parents - and a swift return home - wherever possible. Such work is challenging, however. There is a need to develop practice to support parental involvement in the lives of their children while in the care system, and to work with families to support return home and address problems that contributed to the child's entry into care.

For more information, visit the Nuffield Foundation's website or contact Janet Boddy.

Beyond Contact final report front cover

Children in the World of Football

Research on children in the world of football is being conducted by Nuno Ferreira (Law), in collaboration with Anna Verges at the University of Manchester. The study offers critical perspectives on regulation and rights of the child élite athlete, focusing on the largely unregulated industry that is professional football. Since the early 1990s, a large amount of research has explored the distinct group of child élite players. While scholars have raised the risks of early specialisation (in physical, social and psychological terms) for child development, counter arguments highlighting the benefits of training and an emphasis on long-term athlete development have mitigated the critical voices.

You can keep up to date with the project’s progress on Facebook and Twitter. For more information, contact Nuno Ferreira.

Experiences of Aid Workers' Children

Anne-Meike Fechter (Anthropology) has been researching the experiences of children of mobile professionals employed by international aid agencies in Cambodia. Children and young people can be affected by mobility in different ways: migrating with their families, moving independently, or as children ‘left behind’. How their mobility affects their life chances and choices is often dependent on their level of relative privilege: their socio-economic status, legal status, national and ethnic identity, among other factors. In the context of young people whose parents consider themselves ‘mobile professionals’, and who often attend international schools during their time abroad, a considerable amount of literature has concerned itself with the question in what ways this experience of mobility might make them more ‘international minded’. This is understood as being open to the world, to new experiences, as well as being able to ‘feel at home anywhere’. 

For more information, contact Anne-Meike Fechter.


Funded by the ESRC

Nicola Yuill’s (Psychology) three year research project (starting April 2017) on 'conversational alignment in children with Autistic Spectrum Conditions' with The Language Alignment (Chatlab at Sussex and lab in Edinburgh) examines the reasons underlying conversational difficulties experienced by children with autism, and what they tell us about developing mechanisms of how we generate language in conversation. The project got underway with the launch of wechat.org.uk and a twitterfeed @WechatProject. The team has also launched a competition for children to produce a logo for the project. 

For more information, contact Nicola Yuill.

Keep Your Back to the Future

Pam Thurschwell’s (English) project, Keep your Back to the Future: Adolescent Time Travel Across the Twentieth Century, argues that the history of 20th century adolescence can be usefully understood in relation to the figure of the adolescent as time traveller. From Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895) and Henry James’s The Awkward Age (1899), to psychoanalytic and criminalizing discourses around the adolescent in the first decades of the twentieth century, from the birth of the teenager as consumer in the 1950s to American high school movies of the 1980s, to the post-apocalyptic landscapes of much of today’s popular Young Adult fiction, we find images of youth attempting to reconfigure historical time. She argues that a series of 20thcentury portrayals of adolescence has formally identified it with chronological refusal and narrative rupture.

Beating The Odds

Funded by The Hollick Family Charitable Trust and Brighton & Hove City Council

Led by Robin Banerjee (Psychology), the Beating the Odds project is conducted in conjunction with the CRESS (Children’s Relationships, Emotions and Social Skills) Lab with funding from The Hollick Family Charitable Trust, Brighton and Hove City Council and an alumnus of the University of Sussex. The project builds on successful pilot work in 2014 (funded by Brighton and Hove City Council and Artswork), and involves two main strands of work: one focused on the impact of participation in creative arts projects for young people – including those who are vulnerable or socially excluded, and the other focused
on family support work being carried out by local support services (including services linked to Brighton and Hove City Council’s Early Help Hub and others run by voluntary organisations such as Safety Net).

For more information, contact Robin Banerjee.

Everyday Childhoods

Funded by the ESRC (Face 2 Face) and the Arts & Humanities Research Council (Curating Childhoods)

Everyday Childhoods is a series of projects linking CIRCY and the Sussex Humanities Lab, led by Rachel Thomson (Social Work) and Liam Berriman (Digital Humanities). The projects explore how we document ‘Everyday Childhoods’ in contemporary society, and involve partnerships between the University of Sussex, the University of Brighton, the Open University and the Mass Observation Archive. You can read more about their work over the last year on their blog.

For more information, contact Rachel Thomson.

Evaluations for the Department for Education's Innovation Programme

Following a series of successful evaluations for Wave 1 of the UK Department for Education’s Innovation Programme, CIRCY researchers have been appointed to evaluate projects within Wave 2 of this major funding initiative in children’s social care. The team have been allocated three project evaluations and a critical thematic overview report of systems change projects within the evaluation programme. The innovation projects are ‘Pause’ (a service for women who have experienced recurrent removals of children into care (Janet Boddy leading); ’Contextual Safeguarding in Hackney’ (Michelle Lefevre leading); and ‘Children’s Social Care Innovation in Northamptonshire’ (Gillian Ruch leading). 

CIRCY researchers are working in collaboration with Research in Practice, a key non-governmental organisation, evaluating projects which aim to improve children’s social care systems.

For more information, contact Janet Boddy.