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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

The School’s research strategy is built on three bedrock principles: Firstly, that the generation of research is guided by the theoretical understanding that psychological development and individual behaviour take shape in a socio-economic context; and that such research must influence, be useful for, and increase the effectiveness of, social policy and social work practice. One key product of this research philosophy has been the deliberate pursuit of prospective longitudinal studies (Thoburn on transracially placed children, Neil’s adoption with contact project, Schofield’s children in long-term foster care, Brandon’s studies of significant harm, Thoburn’s Shanghai foster care study). Secondly, a commitment to improve the lives and wellbeing of those who use the social and health services brings us into direct contact with children, parents and adult users, a research practice that has become a distinctive element in the School’s research house-style. Thirdly, the belief that in social work, research and training exist in close partnership. Our teaching skills have been translated into an exceptionally active programme of dissemination with the result that we have a high level of contact with fieldworkers, managers, service users, and other key research consumers.

1.a. Research Groupings
The School has sharpened further its focus and achieved critical mass in its three main research groupings: law into practice, child placement, and psychosocial theory and research into policy and practice. There is much cross-fertilisation of ideas between groups. The effect of so much intellectual traffic is to amplify activities within all three groups. For example, investigations into the implementation of child care legislation triggered a renewed interest in developmental psychology as it underpins child care policy and practice. The group’s adaptation of developmental attachment theory for use by child and family social workers had the added benefit of promoting much sharper analyses of adoption and foster care outcome studies, which in turn is leading to research directly relevant to family placement practice, post-placement support, and issues surrounding contact between children and their birth relatives.
Law into Practice: A socio-legal studies group which interprets, exposits and evaluates criminal and welfare law as needed and used by social workers (Brandon, Connolly, Davies, Dickens, McDonald, Neil, Schofield, Sellick, Shemmings, Stone, Thoburn, Trinder). The group looks at adult law concerned with offenders, people with a mental health problem, and people cared for in the community; and public and private child and family law, including children’s rights. Under the broad leadership of Thoburn, there has been a strong focus on child protection and children’s needs and rights, including examinations of the 1989 Children Act and its implementation. Different combinations of the membership have collaborated on a variety of research projects, notably Safeguarding Children (Thoburn and Brandon) now being extended as a longitudinal study under NSPCC auspices; Partnership based practice (Shemmings and Thoburn); and ‘Family assistance orders’ (Trinder and Stone). Out of the industry of this busy group, individuals have also been encouraged to carry out either solo research and writing projects, or studies in which they have moved from junior to senior investigator. Examples of this include Brandon’s analysis of child death cases in Wales for the Welsh Office, Dickens’ comparison of Romanian and UK child protection laws and practices, Schofield’s examination of 'ascertaining the wishes and feelings’ of insecure children, and Shemmings’ look at children’s participation in decision-making meetings. The most significant publications produced by this group include Thoburn et al’s Department of Health funded studies on Safeguarding Children (1999) and Family Support in Cases of Emotional Maltreatment and Neglect (2000); Stone’s series of Companion Guides based on his authoritative grasp of criminal law as it affects and is used by probation officers; and McDonald’s Challenging Local Authority Decisions (1997). The law into practice group has attracted £403,272 research income over the assessment period (see RA4).
Family Placement: Child and Family placement research is a long established specialism of the School and currently involves Howe, Thoburn, Schofield, Sellick, Neil, Dickens, and Ward. This group has produced a wide range of theoretical and empirical work on adoption, foster and residential care in which issues of placement practice, placement outcome and policy implementation have been addressed. The recent appointment of Ward has strengthened the work of Dickens and Sellick on the residential/family placement interface. Thoburn’s work on the policy and practice of post-placement birth family contact and Neil’s studies of ‘adoption with contact’ are proving influential (with mentions in the Prime Minister’s Review of adoption). The combined output of this group represents a major contribution to the understanding and practice of child placement work. Particularly noteworthy book publications associated with this team include Howe’s Patterns of Adoption and Adoption, Search and Reunion; Thoburn and Sellick’s What Works in Family Placement; Thoburn et al’s Permanent Family Placement for Children of Minority Ethnic Origin; and Schofield et al’s Growing up in Foster Care. This group has attracted £285,335 research income over the assessment period (see RA4).
Psychosocial Theory and Research into Policy and Practice: This grouping captures the activities of faculty who (i) are involved in theory development and the application of theory to practice (Howe, Schofield, Brandon, Dickens, O’Brien, Ward), (ii) are committed to translating evidence-based research findings into social work policy and practice (Davies, Keene, O’Brien, Howe, McDonald, Neil, Trinder, Thoburn, Shemmings, Ward), and (iii) theorise the nature and foundations of social work (Howe, Davies, Ward). Running as a deep connecting thread between these activities is a theoretically driven recognition of the complex interplay between the psychological and social condition of individuals, singly or in groups – in short, a psychosocial perspective. Davies has compiled the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Social Work, a work of great scope and editorial challenge that has uniquely brought together the profession’s collective understanding of social work. Another strong theme within this group is the translation, adaptation and application of attachment and child developmental theories to child and family social work (Howe, Brandon, Schofield) and adult care (Shemmings). Keene specialises in drug and alcohol studies. She has a particular interest in applying the findings of research to help promote prevention and treatment programmes. Her book, Drug Use: Prevention, Harm Minimisation and Treatment, was a landmark publication. Two burgeoning fields of expertise that have arisen within this group are the examination and evaluation of major pieces of social policy (for example, Thoburn et al’s evaluation of The National School Breakfast Club Programme); and family relationships in their social context (for example, Trinder’s new Rowntree supported empirical studies on post divorce parenting and children’s contact after separation; and O’Brien’s EU funded project on Muslim families in Europe). Thoburn and Ward have made contributions to the ESRC supported seminar series on Theorising Social Work. This group has attracted £331,085 research income (see RA4).

1.b. Promoting Research
Research remains the School’s main priority. Lecturers are expected and encouraged to be hard working and high-aiming individuals who must be intent on becoming lead authorities in their area of expertise. The School’s Research Committee oversees and promotes the research climate of the School. It monitors the progress of individual research projects, organises regular staff-research student seminars, and research methods training. Specific mechanisms include (i) identifying experienced colleagues to whom research proposers have a right of access for purposes of advice and discussion when working up a proposal, and (ii) a quality control requirement that advanced drafts of a research proposal must be constructively criticised and checked by the School’s ‘research bids panel’, the Dean, and the University’s Research and Business Development Office before being submitted to the funding body. The Research Committee holds a modest budget (£10-15K per annum) to support pump-priming and small-scale research studies, staff presentations and attendance at conferences, and specialist research methods training that cannot be provided in-house. The Committee encourages and supports faculty to register for research doctorates (three at the time of the census). It also runs ad hoc research seminars for staff who need advice and feedback about projects at key stages in their development, and holds School ‘away-days’ in which particular research themes are addressed (eg grant applications, dissemination). The Centre for Research on the Child and Family is now firmly established as the hub around which both staff and projects in this field develop. It also manages and administers the dissemination of child welfare research. Doctoral research students are invited to join all the School’s research and training activities. It has also been possible to employ research students as part-time paid research assistants on faculty led projects (eg Owers co-authored the Welsh Office report with Brandon: Learning to Make Children Safer, 1999).

1.c. Research Infrastructure
All staff have full IT facilities in their offices, supported by a half-time computer technician. Research students are accommodated in a dedicated room with computer equipment, telephones and desk space. The School also has a large resource room for all its students which is well-equipped with IT facilities provided by the University. As part of its research facilities, the School has a video-suite/observational laboratory for recording social and interpersonal behaviour. This resource makes possible research that requires close observation of real-time interaction and behavioural analysis (eg Greig and Howe’s forthcoming analysis of the interaction between depressed mothers and their toddlers). The School has a part-time computing assistant and advisor on data analysis, SPSS and data presentation, and has recently appointed a full-time statistician/econometrician on a funded project. The University Computing Centre provides help, support, advice and IT resources for research requiring advanced computing inputs, and runs an extensive range of IT courses available to all staff and research students. The Library holds on-line worldwide electronic data retrieval systems that can be accessed from faculty’s own office-based terminals.

Research teaching and training: The School has committed itself to increasing substantially its number of research students. This has progressed along two fronts. The number of doctoral students, particularly part-time, professionally experienced people, has increased from 4 in 1996 to 19 in 2000 as part of the School’s policy to increase doctoral opportunities for practitioners. In 1998 the School received its first intake of Doctor of Social Work students (UEA was the first in the UK to offer a research/professional doctorate tailored to the needs of social worker practitioners). Its significance has been recognised by Thoburn’s inclusion on an EU funded committee on Higher Degrees in European Schools of Social Work). Doctoral students are required to analyse and research elements of their own and their agency’s practice, and thereby contribute to the School’s commitment to a strong practice-oriented research agenda. In recognition of its strengthening of doctoral programmes, the School has won five full-time PhD studentships from the University and ESRC. The number of doctoral students in the pipeline is now the highest in the School’s history.

1. d. Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Research
The School is part of the University’s Health and Professional Group of academic studies which also includes the Schools of Health, Law, Education and Management. The Group has an active policy of encouraging interdisciplinary and collaborative research (for example, it funds a research co-ordinator to help inter-School collaborative bids). Thoburn, Brandon and Schofield are part of a successful joint initiative with the Schools of Health and Education to the DoH to evaluate Breakfast Clubs using a multi-method, multi-disciplinary research design; Keene teamed up with a maths department statistician to work on a large multi-agency project examining overlapping populations of criminal justice, social and health care cases of people who are homeless, have a mental illness, suffer a alcohol/drug problem, or are in prison. Thoburn and Howe have worked with statisticians to apply sophisticated statistical modelling techniques to adoption outcome data sets. Trinder worked as principal editor with Reynolds, a clinical psychologist, and contributed three chapters to their book Evidence-Based Practice: A Critical Appraisal (2000 Blackwell Science).
Collaborations: The School has a research design philosophy that places great value on the needs, interests and ideas of the consumers of social work research. The majority of the research identified in all three groupings has involved the co-operation and collaboration of public and voluntary social work, welfare and health agencies as well as service users. Significant examples of this include: Brandon’s current work with Lincolnshire SSD. The Welsh Office also asked Brandon to analyse serious cases of child abuse in Wales and make recommendations. Howe conducted a Nuffield funded large scale study jointly with The Children’s Society, investigating adopted people’s search and reunion experiences with birth relatives. Howe, Brandon, Hinings and Schofield undertook a two year project with 12 LA social workers and managers working with children at risk of abuse and neglect and their parents, to develop a practice and assessment model based on developmental attachment theory. Keene’s Tracking Project involved close collaboration with a wide range of social, health, and criminal justice agencies with the specific aim of helping them plan and develop better service provision for drug abusing clients. Thoburn is working with the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau to evaluate a service to place institutionalised children with local families.
Dissemination and training: The School has a vigorous, committed approach to the dissemination of its research to the widest possible audience of practitioners, managers and policy makers, both in the UK and overseas. The School has aggressively pursued this responsibility in four main ways: writing, training, conference lectures and seminars, and consultation. All members communicate their work in forms accessible to practitioners. The School supports and encourages individuals to accept and seek out invitations to speak about their findings at conferences, symposia, seminars, and to the media. ‘Making Research Count’ (referred to in the Rowntree review of dissemination, and the DoH ‘Quality Strategy for Social Care’ 2000) is a collaborative venture between UEA and five other universities, administered from UEA. Making Research Count disseminates, by means of national and regional conferences and research seminars, new research findings and briefings to 30 local authority social services department practitioners and managers. The School’s Centre for Research on the Child and Family organises an annual conference which, because of heavy interest, has been held in London in 1999 and 2000 (and repeated in Bristol). Howe (with The Children’s Society) organised large-scale conferences and presented the main research findings of the Adoption, Search and Reunion study in London and Belfast. The School and the Centre for Research on the Child and Family each produce an annual report that is disseminated widely to agencies, research bodies and practitioners. The success of the ‘attachment’ team’s theory and practice model for child and family social work has led to 28 invitations to run one, two and six-day training events for health and social workers. The School has established web sites on the home pages of lead investigators reporting and summarising the School’s latest research findings.
Staffing Policy: The School’s Research Committee has a policy that any member of staff can, via the Committee’s Chair, request a meeting with colleagues whose knowledge, experience and opinions can be brought to bear to advise on any stage of the research process. Of course, much of this happens informally, but the benefits of making formal arrangements is that a degree of discipline and focus is introduced. Weekly research seminars are held throughout the middle weeks of each semester for faculty and research students, with guest speakers invited on average two to three times a year. The University’s mentoring and staff appraisal schemes also ensure that there are formal opportunities to discuss, advise on and help develop individuals’ research careers. The effect of all these arrangements has been to create a School in which there is an exciting and challenging ethos in which research is regarded as absolutely central to the identity of both the School and the individual. The record of achievement, and the leadership of the professoriat (Davies, Thoburn and Howe) generates a healthy climate of ambition, aspiration and application throughout the School, not only amongst faculty and researchers, but also the secretarial and support staff whose skills, commitment and genuine interest in all of what we do adds immeasurably to the School’s sense of itself as a busy, thriving research community.
Following the Concordat as applied at UEA, the ‘established’ contract researchers on fixed term contracts are given first opportunity to apply for associate research posts when new projects arise provided that their skills and knowledge are congruent with the needs of the research. All contract researchers are members of the School Board and they have a representative on the Schools Research Committee. During the period of assessment 8 full-time researchers have been involved in one or more studies. We also have a group of between 3.5 to 4.5 ‘core’ full-time researchers who are available to work on shorter projects (currently Connolly, Beek, Bailey, van Leeson), and provide statistical and computing support (White and Howell).
There is a policy of appointing teaching staff whose interests fit the School’s research strategy. This means that both younger and new staff enter a collegiate environment that can understand, guide and support individuals in their research endeavours and development. A mentoring scheme allocates recently appointed junior staff to a senior colleague. The School has a good track record of teaming new appointments with established and senior colleagues on research projects. Dickens was appointed to his first university post in April 1998 after working as a social work trainer and consultant in Romania. His teaching and initial research interests linked nicely with the international child welfare work of Sellick, resulting already in one joint paper, ‘Teaching social workers across boundaries of country and culture’ Social Work Africa (2000). Neil came via the School’s PhD programme where her thesis on post-adoption contact for young children was inspired by Thoburn’s work on adoption. The calibre of Neil’s research led to her appointment to a lectureship in October 1999 since which she has quickly become a key, integral member of the child placement research grouping, sharing national conference platforms with other members of the team.
Historically, staff changes in the School have been low, reflecting a conducive research and teaching environment. The demise of probation training at UEA and the move of Boswell (a probation specialist) to DeMontfort on unpaid leave of absence in 1998 (before formally leaving in 2000) has allowed the School to pursue its focus on its 3 core areas. Davies, the School’s founding academic, will retire in 2002. His replacement will accord with the School’s planned research strategy of change and evolution. The recent appointments of O’Brien (family relationships in social context) and Ward (children in therapeutic residential care), both at Senior Lecturer level, have further strengthened the School’s resolve to consolidate its reputation as a leading centre for research on the child and family. Keene left for a Chair in March 2001 and will be replaced by a junior lecturer. Ball, an academic child and family lawyer, joined the School at its inception in 1976. In 1998 she was promoted to become full-time Dean of Law. Her departure was an undoubted loss to the Law into practice group. However, with the immediate arrival of Dickens, and the increasing impact of McDonald and Trinder, this group has expanded its core strengths.


Additional Observations: Given the high output of published works achieved by staff, strict selection criteria had to be employed for inclusion in RA2. The criteria for including a publication in the submission were original research that (i) had or is having an acknowledged impact on social work policy and practice gauged by positive peer reviews and demands from the world of policy and practice for training, conference contributions, seminars, keynote addresses, advice, and expert opinion; and/or (ii) broke new intellectual, conceptual or theoretical ground and scholarship. The submissions reported in RA2 reflect fairly accurately the profile of the unit overall. RA2 records 22 of the 30 books, 29 of the 75 peer-reviewed journal papers, and 9 of the 76 book chapters authored and published by category A/A* staff during the assessment period.
Funding has been obtained from a wide variety of sources. In earlier years we have been heavily reliant on DoH funding. A policy of seeking grants from a wider range of funders is now beginning to pay dividends - the School’s research income is back on an upward trend. The policy to seek support more widely has resulted in successful bids to research programme competitions, and the major research charities (Nuffield, Rowntree, Pilgrim, The Children’s Society, Barnados, NSPCC). Success has also been achieved in competing for ‘limited tender bids’ (DoH, Welsh Office, SSI, DoE.) Research monies have also been won from individual local authorities, health trusts, and private and
voluntary welfare providers.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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