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We have a number of current and recently completed research and development projects relating to child wellbeing and protection, more details of which can be found below.

The Child Wellbeing and Protection research group underpins the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection and brings together staff from across the University of Stirling who are engaged in research of relevance to children’s wellbeing and protection.

Seamless Services

Our first new research project ‘Seamless Services’ is being funded by the University of Stirling in partnership with Aberlour Child Care Trust, Children in Scotland, NHS Forth Valley and Social Work Scotland. In this project three linked PhD studies will critically examine the impact of Scotland’s framework for children’s services upon the wellbeing of children in Scotland. Seamless services will consider the contributions of Health, Education and Social Work to the wellbeing of children.

This project will commence in February 2016.

Permanently Progressing?

Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland is a ground breaking research study run jointly by the University of Stirling and the University of York, in collaboration with the Adoption and Fostering Alliance (AFA) Scotland.  The first stage of the research (completing in 2018), lays the groundwork for a planned longitudinal study to follow a cohort of children in Scotland as they grow up. Every year, several thousand children in Scotland become ‘looked after’ at home or ‘looked after and accommodated’ in foster care, residential placements or with relatives due to concerns about their welfare. While many return to their parents, for some the decision is taken to permanently place them with adoptive parents, foster carers or kinship carers. Since 2014, the Permanently Progressing? study has been following a large cohort (1836) of young children in Scotland who became ‘looked after’ or ‘looked after and accommodated’ in 2012-13, when they were five or under. The study draws on quantitative and qualitative data from Children Looked After Statistics (CLAS), interviews with 160 decision makers, questionnaires completed by adoptive parents/carers and professionals on a sub-sample of 643 children, and interviews with 20 adoptive parents/carers and 10 children. It considers:

  • How are decisions made?
  • What promotes feelings of belonging?
  • How do children fare in relation to their relationships, health, and educational progress

The team is led by Dr Helen Whincup (PI) and includes Dr Andressa Gadda, Dr Margaret Grant, Jade Hooper, Dr Marina Shapira, Dr Sarah Wilson working with Professor Nina Biehal (co-PI University of York) and Dr Linda Cusworth (University of Lancaster).

More details about this study can be found on the Permanently Progressing? page.

Making a change

This project, led by Jane Callaghan, with Fiona Morrison, Joanne Alexander and Dave Morran as co-investigators, evaluates the implementation and outcomes of the Respect / Women’s Aid Federation England project ‘Making a Change’. This project combines a community focused intervention intended to reduce acceptance of domestic abuse and increase access to support for people who want to stop using violence and coercive control, with a direct intervention for those who use violence and coercive control in their intimate relationships. The evaluation uses a mixed methods approach to consider the outcomes of the programme for those who use violence and control, their partners / ex partners and children, and the impact it has on service delivery and use of service across two pilot regions. It uses individual interviews, action learning sets, focus groups, service data, and quantitative measures of conflict resolution tactics.

Children's Right to Participate in Family Law Cases

Scots law provides children with the right to be involved in decisions when their parents separate, such as about which parent they will live with, as well as their relationship with the other parent. However, actual practice may vary. This project, led by Dr Fiona Morrison, will examine law and practice in Scotland, and internationally, to establish the current position for children and identify potential solutions to the challenges and barriers in this area. The research is being funded by the Scottish Government and coincides with its review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, and is a collaboration between the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection at the University of Stirling, the Centre for Research for Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh and Clan Childlaw. The findings of the project, will be used to shape the future of family law in Scotland, and how courts deal with cases involving children.


The Centre has been commissioned by Barnardos to evaluate the implementation of the RISE programme that aims to identify and protect children and young people from CSE. The RISE project adopts a proactive, multiagency approach, to improving existing processes and responses to identifying and protecting children and young people from CSE, and to assist in disrupting perpetrators and perpetrator networks, thereby protecting other potential victims. Led by Jane Callaghan and Paul Rigby, this project uses focus group and individual interviews with key stakeholders to explore the barriers and enablers to the implementation of this project, to explore its perceived impact, and to consider key lessons for future implementation.

Open Kindergartens: Improving Family Support Provision in Scotland

The aim of the first phase of the Open Kindergarten project was to consider an alternative model of low-threshold family support for parents with children aged 0 to 3 years of age – the Open Kindergarten. Open Kindergartens are drop in open sessions for parent and child staffed by early years practitioners and non-statutory social workers, which offer parents support through peer interaction and professional support. Working with Children in Scotland, Andressa Gadda and Jane Callaghan provided an initial scoping study to explore the feasibility of the model. In phase 2, Hannah Hale and Jane Callaghan are conducting an evaluation of an implementation of the model.​

Safe Strong and Free

The Safe Strong and Free Project (Ssf) is a Primary Abuse Prevention Programme. It is a Highland charity which aims to reduce the vulnerability of young children to abuse and assault. In May 2017 Safe Strong and Free (SSF) commissioned the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection (CCWP) to evaluate its programme. The primary aim of this evaluation is to consider the extent to which key messages conveyed during the workshops are learned and applied by the children who take part in the programme. The first phase of the evaluation used observations of the workshops, follow up activities with the children and questionnaires to parents and nursery staff.

Young People Creating Belonging: Sights and Sounds

This project, led by Sarah Wilson, combined theoretical insights from the sociology of families, relationships and personal life with developing sensory (visual and audial) and artistic qualitative research methods (Young People Creating Belonging: sights, sounds and sights ESRC RES-061-25-0501). This project explored how looked after young people create (non) belonging (whether positive, negative or ambivalent) in new placements.

Discover more about the analysis and data produced during this project (including participants' photos, drawings, music and a video on the difficulties of 'transition' from successful care arrangements to isolating, ill-repaired flats). This work has led to developing interests in the use of arts-based methods with marginalised young people and in the ethical and affective communication and representation of research findings.

Befriending for unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Scotland

The Scottish Guardianship Service aims to improve the separated child’s experience and understanding of the immigration and welfare processes and to ensure they receive services appropriate to their needs and entitlements. Guardians assist unaccompanied children in navigating complex asylum, social work, and trafficking victim identifications systems (Crawley and Kholi 2013), but unaccompanied children often have multiple needs: from food, shelter and safety, poverty and social exclusion, to legal and financial advice, health, education, opportunities to develop language skills, and quick, on-going access to services. The Guardianship role, in Scotland, is not primarily designed to help combat social isolation and loneliness, and with increased numbers of referrals has struggled to offer additional support to potentially isolated young people. Kohli (2007) has commented that unaccompanied children have expressed the importance of social relations as a key contributor to their emotional wellbeing.

Funded through the Social Innovation Scheme, phase 1 of the Befriender Scheme aimed to develop a durable, tailored befriending service model, with the primary aim of reducing social isolation amongst unaccompanied children in Scotland and supporting their fuller integration into Scottish society. Building on existing models of mainstream befriending services, this model would be developed through co-production with unaccompanied children and professionals, reflecting their views and tailored to their needs. In Stage 2, an independent evaluation of implementation and effectiveness will be provided through the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection a the University of Stirling. The research team will deploy an action research model, working alongside Aberlour to establish clear methods of data collection and data analysis to address identified outcomes.


Identifying the presence of children and young people who have been trafficked and establish their routes to arrival

The issue of trafficking has received considerable attention from politicians, policymakers, academics and practitioners in the past 10-15 years, with significant efforts being made at various levels – international, European and domestic – to establish legal and policy frameworks capable of dealing with this complex and multi-faceted issue. Recognising that child trafficking is child abuse the Scottish Government (2013; 2014) has located responses within the existing child protection framework to ensure that children receive a holistic, child-friendly, rights based approach to their care and support. Led by Margaret Malloch and Paul Rigby, the project aims to build on and develop extant knowledge by drawing on the expertise of the research team and working closely with key stakeholders to identify the broader context of child trafficking in Scotland. The overall aim of the research is to: 1. Provide a comprehensive understanding of how many children and young people have been identified as being trafficked across Scotland 2. Establish routes into trafficking (geographically; demographically and socially)

Improving the protection and wellbeing of children in Europe: enhancing the curriculum

In this ERASMUS+ project we are working with the charity Terres des Hommes, with the University of Kent and with Universities in Moldova, Kosova, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia to develop a core child protection curriculum. For further information please contact Dr Paul Rigby

Quarriers: Evaluation of Ruchazie Family Centre Services

This project is exploring how the services provided for children and parents (funded by the BLF) are making a difference. The centre provides a wide range of creative activities to support parenting and families in the local area. The evaluation team including Sian Lucas, and Tanya Beetham are working with the centre staff and parents to explore what works using critical reflective methodology, interviews and focus groups.

Doctoral projects

Joanne Alexander: Rooting Futures in Pasts: A critical analysis of women’s accounts of intergenerational transmission of family violence.

Social, practice and academic discourses involving family violence frequently portray intergenerational transmission (IGT) as an inevitable consequence of experiencing violence. Those exposed to violence are represented as magnets for intimate partner violence as well as transmitters of perpetrator or victim behaviours intra- and inter-generationally. This research aims to explore the accounts of women who have experienced violence in multiple generations of their families, with a particular focus on the ways their discourses reflect and contest social, practice and academic discourses involving IGT. Negative representations of intergenerational transmission involving ‘cycles’ of violence and family ‘legacies’, frame individuals and families as terminally and perpetually damaged and damaging. Furthermore, I explore how by their very nature, discourses of IGT trouble and, in some cases, nullify the more positive and constructive narratives of recovery and healing by closing down the potential for violence-free futures and rooting people’s futures firmly in their pasts. This thesis qualitatively explores the theoretical model of intergenerational transmission of family violence and intimate partner violence from a critical discursive perspective, looking at intergenerational familial relationships, extra-familial relationships and support systems.

Tanya Beetham: Young women's narrations of experiencing domestic violence in childhood: an intersectional narrative analysis of accounts of coping in 'different' childhoods

This project explores the stories of young women who experienced domestic violence and abuse in childhood, whose families did not access specialist support. Using interviews with 10 young women, the project explores how they made sense of, coped with and recovered from their experiences of abuse, and aims to develop a model to articulate their understanding of ‘resilience’ in this context.

Christine Gray: Safe and Together

In UK statutory services, the domestic abuse and landscape is increasingly dominated by a risk management based approach, focused on perception of risk to the adult victim and their children (McLaughlin et al., 2016). Risk assessments like the CAADA-Dash categorise adult victims as high or low risk, and the protective mechanisms and services that are placed around families are premised on this categorisation. This can have several unintended effects. By focusing on victims without paying sufficient attention to the systemic dynamics of the family more broadly, there is a risk that serious indicators associated with coercive control might be overlooked (Stark, 2007; Cooper and Vetere, 2008). The approach also pays insufficient attention to children’s voice (Callaghan et al., 2016; Katz, 2016).

Because of the very narrow risk focus, it also has the potential l to produce a narrative that blames the victim-parent for placing their children at risk by remaining in a relationship with the perpetrating parent (Callaghan, 2015; Katz, 2015a).  Finally, whilst a risk led approach may help services to prioritise service delivery and protection for families, it does not identify clear pathways for care and support for those recovering from domestic violence and abuse. The Safe and Together model emerged to redress these difficulties, by focusing on strategies professionals can use to keep children living safely with their non-perpetrating parent. The model analyses the perpetrator’s patterns of coercive control as well as behaviours that place the child at risk, and assesses the adverse impact of these behaviours.

It also assesses the non-perpetrating parent’s full range of behaviours to keep the children safe and well. Finally, it assesses other adverse circumstances like parental substance abuse and mental health difficulties, and socio-economic and cultural factors that might maintain or contribute to the domestic abuse.  The model promotes a partnership approach that focuses on building a positive working relationship with the non-perpetrating parent, to protect the children.  In this sense, the model offers a more sensitive approach to assessment, that takes account of some of the broader systemic dynamics that families experience. The research will explore the perspectives of children and their families on the support that they receive when domestic violence is experienced.

Jynna Yarrum: The role of the Children’s Wellbeing Practitioner in England

The proposed project explores the implementation of the role of the Children and Young People’s Wellbeing Practitioner in the delivery of low intensity interventions for children, young people and their families. The role of the Wellbeing Practitioner is to provide low intensity psychological therapies for children and young people with emergent mild to moderate mental health difficulties, who do not meet the threshold for referral into specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Although low intensity workers (Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners, or PWPs) have been used for some time in adult services as part of the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies programme (IAPT), this role was only introduced in children’s services in  2017.  The effectiveness of bespoke low intensity workers in supporting children and young people with mild to moderate mental health and behavioural difficulties has been untested in the UK, and an evaluation of the impact of the introduction of wellbeing is therefore timely.  Using a qualitative, longitudinal approach, this study explores trainee experiences of the development and implementation of the role over the first two years of this new intervention.

Judy Warburton: The Scottish Children’s Hearing System

The Children’s Hearings system is Scotland’s unique care and justice system for children and young people. It aims to ensure the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people through a decision making lay tribunal or panel. By positioning the system in the wider context of the global debate around children’s rights and child welfare and justice my research will explore how Children’s Hearings make decisions. One of the fundamental principles of the system is that Hearings must seek, listen to and take account of the views of children in reaching decisions about them. This should be achieved by way of an informal conversation involving the family and professionals involved in the child's life. There are two aspects of the research which are relevant in the context of this submission.  One is the inherent tension between the need to listen to, and take account of, the views of the child and the need to make a decision in their best interest.  The second focuses on the difficulties the Hearing faces in obtaining those views from vulnerable children, many of whom have suffered trauma or neglect on the way into the system and may struggle both with the Hearing setting and their ability to communicate with unknown adults. 

Whilst the decision of the Hearing is ultimately made by lay panel members, a number of different groups of professionals contribute to the discussion with the child and family during the hearing and the research, which is at an early stage, will seek the experiences and views of members of these professionals, as well as of panel members, through individual interviews and focus groups.

Kate Kyriakou: Tackling child neglect: developing public health solutions in Scotland

The current project focuses on exploring in depth how a model based on a public health approach could be developed in order to contribute to tackling child neglect in Scotland. It explores with practitioners, managers, policy makers and academics working in the field of child protection and/or public health, their perspectives and understanding of public health approaches and the prevention of child neglect. In addition to this, it aims to explore with parents and care experienced young people their experiences and perspectives on what can work to overcome the challenges facing children and families today. Overall, it is expected that the development of a feasible population-wide model to tackle neglect, that follows the principles of a public health approach, will contribute significantly to prevention approaches to neglect in Scotland and beyond.

Katherine Allen: Seamless Services: learning how teachers practice and understand well-being in Scottish schools

This project aims to examine how classroom teachers understand and practice their role(s) as part of the multidisciplinary support network for children, in regard to child well-being within the Scottish education context. The objective is to examine the role of classroom teachers with regard to child well-being concerns, including the perceptions and communication practices of teachers around significant events and interprofessional work within the multidisciplinary support network for children. The project aims to produce a practical understanding of how teachers are currently navigating the multidisciplinary support network and the ways in which their communication practices effect both interprofessional aspirations (joined-up working, integration) and, subsequently, well-being outcomes for children. This research project will use qualitative methods and a case study design to explore how teachers perceive, communicate about, and document well-being concerns and significant events in the classroom.

Nikoletta Komvoki: The Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) policy approach: Finding the balance among its tensions

In keeping with the aspiration to make Scotland the best place to grow up, the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) policy approach has been developed in Scotland since 2004 to promote young children’s wellbeing. The two key principles within the GIRFEC are the promotion of early intervention practices as well as the seamless collaboration among stakeholders, such as families, educators, the police, social care and health services. Because the GIRFEC principles have been enshrined in law in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act (2014) (Scottish Government, 2014), Health Visitors along with all the professionals working with families are required to adapt their practices to the new legislative changes at the ground level. From policy to practice, however, there are tensions brought up within GIRFEC. Due to the relatively new legislation, very little has been known about how professionals’ new practices are perceived by Health Visitors, parents and young children, which creates a research gap in the literature. This qualitative study aims to critically explore how professionals (mostly Health Visitors), parents and children understand and negotiate the tensions in GIRFEC between: 1. Promoting wellbeing and protecting from risk 2. Early intervention and reactive intervention 3. Integrated and independent services. The study will be a case study of one Scottish NHS Health Board using individual interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders including parents. To collect young children’s views on the matter, creative methods i.e. drawing techniques, discussion on hypothetical scenarios (vignettes), unfinished sentences and postal boxes used with approximately 2-3 pre-schoolers (aged from 3-5) will take place.

Lauren McAllister: Well that’s just the ambulance job’ A Phenomenological Exploration of How Fire fighters Experience Emotion and Feeling

This project uses Phenomenological Analysis to explore how (20) members of the Fire Service make sense of emotional experiences whilst doing the job.

Luke Ward: Exploring the b/ordering process(es) for youth with non-binary gender identities

This project explores how non-binary youth constitute their identities, as they negotiate the already transitional positioning of adolescence in western / global northern culture. This will be done by using border theory alongside critical, feminist and queer epistemological frameworks to challenge dominant cisgenderism, categorical thinking and essentialised, stable identity politics. Recommendations from current border theorists suggest focusing on bordering process(es), rather than just the demarcation of lines of separation, to capture more complexity and understandings of what is occurring within borderland spaces. An intersectional perspective will be used throughout the theorisation to acknowledge that the bordering process(es) are likely to be experienced differently based on the identities that a person may have. The research will be guided by the question: “how is the b/ordering process is regulated, resisted, and reimagined in the non-binary gender borderlands?

Tanya Beetham: Young women's narrations of experiencing violence in childhood: an intersectional narrative analysis of accounts of coping in 'different' childhoods.

This project explores the stories of young women who experienced domestic violence and abuse in childhood, whose families did not access specialist support. Using interviews with 10 young women, the project explores how they made sense of, coped with and recovered from their experiences of abuse, and aims to develop a model to articulate their understanding of ‘resilience’ in this context.

  • Reports

    Background Paper 1 Children Neglect in Scotland: Follow-up survey 2016

    Background Paper 2 Children Neglect in Scotland: Rapid review of the literature on intervention

    Background Paper 3 Children Neglect in Scotland: Rapid review of legislation and policy

    The Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection has worked with colleagues to produce various publications and reports in relation to neglect and links to these can be found below:

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