University of Oxford Department of Education Seminar Series

Monday 17 February 2014
Professional foster carers and committed parents: the challenges of providing permanence in long-term foster care.

Professor Gillian Schofield

View Slides (powerpoint)

There are concerns for the stability and outcomes for children in long-term foster care among policy makers in England and many other countries. The goal of permanence for children separated from their birth families and in the care of the state has dominated child care policy and practice in the UK, the USA and Canada since the 1980s.  But the meanings of permanence in terms of stability, emotional security and family membership into adulthood are complex, and the placements and legal status thought best able to achieve permanence are contested in principle and for individual children.

This seminar brings together key findings for children, foster carers and professionals. It also draws on a separate study of parents of children in long-term foster care, as foster children continue to think about, have feelings about and often have face to face contact with birth family members.

Professor Gillian Schofield is Head of the School of Social Work, Centre for Research on Children and Families, University of East Anglia.

Monday 4th March 2013
Research on childhood well-being: gender and racialised identities
Professor Ann Phoenix

‘Wellbeing’ has become increasingly prominent in policy agenda and research in various disciplines. It has become common to link wellbeing with a range of childhood outcomes. In the UK, an important impetus for research in this area was the 2007 publication of the UNICEF comparisons of children’s wellbeing in 37 affluent countries, which placed the UK at the bottom and led to policies designed to address inequality, social exclusion and poverty and to promote childhood wellbeing. Wellbeing can now be said to be a trope for the conditions necessary to ensuring that children maximise their potential and can live happy, successful lives that contribute to society. It is linked to a range of desirable health, social and educational outcomes, including optimal development in childhood and over the lifecourse.

Yet, despite its ubiquity, there is some debate about how to conceptualise ’wellbeing’. There are also disagreements about what threatens children’s chances of experiencing wellbeing. As Morrow (2009) suggests, however, children’s wellbeing needs to be contextualised within the structural, political and economic pressures and constraints on children’s lives. This presentation aims to throw light on the impact of gender and racialisation on young people’s wellbeing. It first critically engages with debates about wellbeing as a concept before considering how ethnicity, gender and social class intersect in ways that impact on young people’s wellbeing. The paper draws on data from studies of masculinities, consumption and adults looking back on their childhoods to consider young people’s accounts of their experiences.

Professor Ann Phoenix is Co-Director of the Thomas Coram Research Institute, Institute of Education University of London, and Co-Director of the Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre.


Monday 3 June 2013
Safeguarding children in the early years: research messages for professionals in education
Professor Harriet Ward

Evidence concerning the impact of abuse and neglect in the early years points to the importance of taking swift and decisive action when very children are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. The decisions made by professionals who have safeguarding responsibilities are extremely difficult and will have long-term consequences for children’s life chances. Moreover intense public interest means that those who make the decisions can be publicly vilified by the media both if they are perceived as having left children too long in dangerous situations or as having removed them unnecessarily from their families.

Delayed language and communications skills and poor socialisation will have an enduring and negative impact on young children’s readiness for school and on their ability to benefit from formal education. This presentation focused on the role of teachers and early years practitioners in safeguarding children and the issues that arise when abuse and neglect are identified. It drew attention to the mismatch between timeframes for professional decision-making and early childhood development, and the difficulties in providing preventive services in the current economic climate. Research evidence comes from the studies in the recent Safeguarding Children Research Initiative (Davies and Ward, 2012); specific illustrations were drawn from a prospective longitudinal study of the decision-making process influencing the life pathways and developmental progress of a sample of very young children who were identified as suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm before their first birthdays and have now been followed until they are five (Ward, Brown and Westlake, 2012; Ward, Brown and Maskell Graham, 2012). Implications for policy and practice were discussed.

Professor Harriet Ward is Director of the Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) at Loughborough University, UK and co-director of the government-funded Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre – a partnership between the Institute of Education, University of London, Loughborough University and PSSRU, University of Kent. She has over 20 years experience both as a research director and field researcher, as an adviser to policymakers and service providers, and as a social work practitioner.

Harriet’s leadership of the Looking After Children project (1993-2001) had considerable influence on the development of government policy and practice concerning looked after children in the UK and abroad. It also led to a number of research initiatives, which informed the development of the CCFR programme of research on outcomes for vulnerable children; a key feature has been the innovative work on calculating costs of children’s services. Harriet has recently completed a major research study on infants suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm and co-authored Safeguarding Children Across Services: Messages from Research on Identifying and Responding to Child Maltreatment, the Overview of the Department of Health and Department for Education funded Safeguarding Children Research Initiative. Her research programme continues to inform the development of policy and practice and she was awarded a CBE for services to children and families in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2012.