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Families and Children Cluster

Families and Children Cluster

Led by Professor Ravinder Barn and Professor Anna Gupta, the Families and Children Research Group in the Department of Law and Criminology brings together academic colleagues from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

The Families and Children Research Group in the Department of Law and Criminology brings together academic colleagues from a range of disciplinary perspectives, namely Law, Social Policy, Sociology, Criminology, Social Work, and Psychology. Areas of research include adoption, children in state care, children as witnesses, family formation, family life and well-being, poverty and child protection, families and food, children's experiences of living with chronic conditions and the impact on family relationships, parenting programmes, domestic abuse, technology and family life, and youth justice.

Research also illuminates the relationship between families, the law and the criminal justice system. For example, studies have focused on the legal responses to alternative family structures, forensic interviewing of child abuse victims and prisoners’ familial relationships.

We aim to:

  • Undertake cutting-edge scholarly research in a collaborative environment;
  • Contribute to conceptual and empirical understandings in relation to families and children;
  • Engage with key stakeholders in society to help achieve policy and practice impact.

The Cluster provides a forum for members for exchange ideas, share information and support one another's research through collaboration and peer review.

Professor Ravinder Barn is engaged in five studies involving families and children. In conjunction with colleagues at Al-Quds Open University in the West Bank, and the universities of Palermo, Crete, and Bragança, she has been funded by the European Union to develop early childhood education and care in Palestine. Prof Barn is also working with the University of Palermo to study the well-being of unaccompanied minors in Sicily; and with the Punjabi University in Patiala (India) to study the impact of Covid-19 on child well-being. Both the Sicilian and the Indian study are part of a 35-nation research network which seeks to promote qualitative understandings of children’s own perspectives on well-being. Professor Barn’s research into social technology and youth justice is an ongoing project that is focused on implementation at local and regional level in England and Wales. Prof Barn’s new GCRF study, with Universities of Cape Town, and the Western Cape, explores the impact of Covid-19 on child well-being in South Africa. Prof. Barn is taking part as a co-I in a £1.57 mln UK Future Leaders Fellowship-funded project titled: ‘Hair and Care: Black Children and Young People’s Experience of Belonging and Exclusion in Social Care and Education’.

Dr Philip Bremner is currently working on a project examining the significance of gender in the context of legal parenthood. This project explores the ways in which legal and bureaucratic processes require a particular gendered conception of parenthood, for example, in relation to birth registration. Philip is also involved in a project examining the property consequences of forming intimate cohabiting relationships. The project considers the extent to which concepts from land law and equity are capable of achieving fair outcomes in the context of non-martial cohabitation in the absence of statutory intervention.    

Dr Rita D’Alton-Harrison researches international commercial surrogacy, border controls and the ‘disconnected’ family. She is a member of the steering committee of the European Reproductive Justice Network. This is a Network of academics, lawyers, practitioners and campaigners with the stated aim of sharing and increasing knowledge of differing law, practices, and cultural and societal approaches to reproduction across Europe.

Professor Anna Gupta is involved in a number of research and impact projects involving children, families and professionals working in child protection and with children in care. She is the supervisor for a European Commission Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships on poverty, child protection and parental advocacy. Prof. Gupta is also working on a German Government funded project with the Universities of Hamburg and Siegen on young people’s participation in residential care. Together with Professors Brid Featherstone (University of Huddersfield) and Kate Morris (University of Sheffield), she has developed a social model of child protection and family support, and is working with colleagues in Finland, Germany and the Netherlands on the application of the Capability Approach to social work. Much of Prof. Gupta’s work has adopted a participatory approach bringing together people with lived experience of social work and professionals in dialogue to co-produce more humane and social just services. Prof Gupta’s most recent study is funded by the UKRI to examine the impact of Covid-19 on families and children in England.

Dr David La Rooy is in collaboration with a research group at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience at Maastricht University lead by Dr Henry Otgaar. These researchers have opened up two new research sites in which we are exploring issues to do with child abuse. One research site is in the Netherlands and the other is in Indonesia (Jakarta); we have started preliminary work and are on course to produce the first research outputs that will generate additional research questions and further research collaboration.

Dr Kate Leonard is currently undertaking a 3 year evaluation of the impact of a one year part-time programme of study (Graduate Certificate in Social Care) offered by RHUL in partnership with the West London Teaching Partnership. The programme prepared students to study at level 6 to support their application to a social work programme. She is also undertaking a study on critical reflection as an organisational and professional practice in supervision: A study in two local authority children and families social work teams.

Dr Caterina Nirta is currently working on a new project that, adopting a qualitative mixed-method approach, investigates the gap in significance, perception and expectation between the projected ideal of gender imbedded in the GIDS assessment criteria for gender dysphoria in young people and the gender diverse and inclusive landscape young people navigate today.

Dr Louise O’Connor’s research focuses on professional practice, particularly the role and meaning of emotions in the performance and processes of social work and interdisciplinary practice. She is currently working on disseminating findings from her PhD which used ethnographic methodologies to identify the complex emotion practices undertaken by practitioners, despite problematic constructions of emotions in the workplace. Her research projects span practitioners’ decision-making in children and families social work, children’s experiences of parental substance use, and the role of identities in social work education and practice.

Dr Tim Sinnamon’s research concentrates on two areas. Building on his PhD research Tim works on and has published on regulation of legal services. His interests relate to regulation in its wider context and also the theoretical and practical operationalisation of the public interest objective of regulation. Within the public interest – Tim is particularly interested in how legal services are regulated to improve access to justice through the sustainable delivery of legal advice and justice. Tim is also a property lawyer and this is his second area of research interest. In particular Tim is interested in the intersection between property law, behavioural economics and regulation. Tim is presently working on a project that examine how well-known behavioural patterns are accommodated within the law of adverse possession and the effects that this has on land registration. He is also working on a project with colleagues that examines behavioural relationships with property in a broader familial, cultural and sociological context.

With funding support from the European Research Council (€1,499,818.00), Dr Giovanni Travaglino will undertake a project titled Legitimization of Criminal Governance: Group Comparisons and Within-Individual Dynamics (CrimGov). This international study will utilise multiple methodologies and approaches and include empirical data collection with adolescents in Italy, Japan and the UK to understand legal socialization in risky contexts. The project will lead to a new understanding of how political power and authority are exerted outside institutional channels. It will foster theoretical development across various disciplines and establish solid empirical evidence to influence educative and law enforcement practices.

Dr Michelle Webster is currently working on a research project entitled: ‘Intensive Grandparenting? Exploring the Changing Nature of Grandparenting in the This British Academy funded project seeks to understand whether the changing nature of parenting (particularly the intensification of parenting and the notion of children at risk) has influenced grandparents’ narratives and practices. This study will investigate whether the intensification of parenting has influenced the grandparenting role and if so, the extent to which it has changed grandparent-grandchild relations. The study will contribute an increased understanding of the role and practices of contemporary grandparents in family life. It will engage with and extend interdisciplinary academic debates on childhood, grandparenting, intensive parenting, doing and displaying families, and surveillance in family life. More recently, Dr Webster produced an episode of the podcast Eating Words. The focus of the episode is food, parenting and identity, and it can be accessed here.

The families and children research cluster is actively engaged in real world research. Many of the researchers work closely with key stakeholders to help effect policy, practice and provision. Two examples below demonstrate some of the work in this cluster.

Over the years, Professor Ravinder Barn’s work on ethnicity and children in public care has played an important role in the development of policy and practice, for example, around ethnic monitoring of all children looked after in England & Wales; and transracial adoption and post-adoption support. More recently, Prof Barn’s inter-disciplinary work with Computer Scientists at Middlesex University has led to the development of social technology for youth justice. This technology has been well received by the youth justice sector through the availability of the App via Google Play, and App Store (Apple). In addition to tailored training for 25 youth offending teams in England & Wales, the production of a tool kit / user manual and videos have helped practitioners and young people improve engagement to achieve positive outcomes. 

Dr Emily Glorney was invited and added my support to a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson dated 15th November 2021. The letter asked the Prime Minister to commit the government to prepare and publish a strategy to meet the needs of all children and adults with an acquired brain injury, via Chris Bryant MP’s Acquired Brain Injury Private Members’ Bill on Acquired Brain Injury. Dr Glorney's research findings on brain injury among women in prison specifically contributed to the proposed Bill.

Dr Emily Glorney concluded a research project funded by the Surrey County Council on permanent school exclusions, which proved influential for the debate at the Multi Agency Summit on 2 March 2022 (see here). The project brokered a relationship with Surrey Police and Youth Justice to extend existing research by linking data across public services​. As a result of her work, Dr Emily Glorney received the Award of the High Sheriff of Surrey in recognition of her great and valuable service to the community (see here).

Professor Anna Gupta’s research has been instrumental in highlighting the impact of involvement with child protection services on parents and other family members, and in changing attitudes, policies and practices in relation to poverty awareness and family inclusion in the child protection system. Her research centres attention on the social harms and damaging contexts of many families’ lives, especially as a result of ‘austerity’ policies. This research has influenced public and professional debate; facilitated social work practitioners to be more poverty-aware and family inclusive; and has enhanced the capabilities of the parents engaged in policy and practice development. In turn, this has directly led to increased parental participation and co-production in child protection policy development at local and national level, notably with changes in policies in Camden Children’s Services.

In autumn 2020, Dr Louise O’Connor was commissioned by a London Youth Offending Service to develop and deliver a collaborative project with three other professionals from a mixture of social work/therapy/arts & drama.  The focus was on creating a space for conversations on developing anti-racist practice. The multi-disciplinary group ran a series of virtual workshops with the whole organisation. The event was evaluated positively despite raising challenges and involving difficult conversations, particularly in the context of remote/virtual working.

In the first half of 2022, the members of the Families and Children cluster presented at various international conferences, events and symposia. Below is a selected list of the most impactful presentations:

  • Prof. Ravinder Barn co-presented at ISCI in May 2022 a paper titled “The internet is keeping me from dying from boredom”: Understanding the management and social construction of the self through middle-class Indian children’s engagement with digital technologies during the COVID-19 lockdown in Punjab and Odisha;
  • Dr Philip Bremner presented at the Modern Studies in Property Law Conference at the University of Oxford in March 2022 a paper titled "Cohabitation in Scotland and England: The Extent to Which Remedial Trusts can Achieve Fair Outcomes". He also presented a paper titled "Legal Parenthood and Birth Registration: Responding to Diversity in Family Formation" in the family law stream of the Socio-Legal Studies Association Conference in April 2022.
  • Prof. Anna Gupta delivered papers at the Children’s Social Work Matters conference in Leeds on 8 March 2022, and at the ECSWR in Amsterdam on 7 April 2022;
  • In April 2022, Dr Giovanni Travaglino delivered a paper titled "The legitimization of criminal governance: Group dynamics and intraindividual processes" at the Extra-Legal Governance Institute, Nuffield College, University of Oxford. He also delivered a seminar titled “The Shadow Economy and Organized Crime: A Multidisciplinary Approach” at the University of Palermo in June 2022 (see here).

For the Autumn Term of the 2021/22 academic year, the Families and Children Research Cluster organised the following meetings:

  • on 20 October 2021, a virtual meeting on Children's Right Discourse, with Dr. Hedi Viterbo (QMUL) and Dr. Yuval Saar-Heiman (RHUL);
  • on 17 November 2021, a virtual meeting with Dr Shona Minson (University of Oxford) on the topic of The rights of children whose parents are sentenced in the criminal courts;
  • finally, on 8 December 2021, a virtual meeting with Dr. Philip Bremner (RHUL) on the topic of LGBTQ+ Parenting Journeys and Family Law: A Case Study Approach.

The full programme for the Autumn Term of the 2021/22 academic year is available here


Selected Events in 2021

Prof Ravinder Barn delivered an online valedictory address at the fourth International Conference on "Migration, Diasporas and Sustainable Development: Perspectives, Policies, Opportunities and Challenges", Delhi, India.

Dr Philip Bremner presented (along with colleagues at Sussex) a law reform proposal on birth registration for the Law Commission at the Family Law Reform conference in Birmingham in September. The proposal is now being worked up into a chapter for an edited collection of the event.

Prof Anna Gupta has given online keynote addresses at the eighth National Child Protection and Welfare Social Work Conference at University College Cork, Ireland on the 22ndOctober 2021, on Poverty Matters: Rights and Relationships in child protection; and at the IsForsa (Icelandic department of Forsa, Association for Research in Social Work in the Nordic countries) conference on the 11th and 12th November 2021, on Understanding Contexts, Promoting Capabilities: A Social Model for Protecting Children.

Dr Jenny Korkodeilou presented online papers at the Annual British Society of Criminology Conference in July on femicides through the lens of high-profile of a rape/murder case in Greece; and at the 4th European Conference on Domestic Violence in September on stalking and violence against women in light of post #MeToo and in post-Covid-19 era. 

Dr Louise O’Connor delivered in October 2021 an online talk to Irish social work & social care academics on The Place of Emotions in Professional Identity.

Dr Giovanni Travaglino has given a paper in November 2021 on the relationship between the coronavirus measures’ stringency, the speed of measure implementation and perceived stress, at the 3rd International Scientific Conference "Coping with Crisis – Pathways Towards Resilience", Catholic University of Croatia.

On 2 July 2021, the School of Law and Social Sciences sponsored a Multi-Agency Summit on Permanent School Exclusion in Surrey. The event was organised in collaboration with Dr Julie Llewelyn, High Sheriff of Surrey 2021-22. This event was the culmination of three years of work with Royal Holloway, in collaboration with Surrey County Council and Surrey Police, to commission and conduct research that addresses the issue of permanent school exclusions in Surrey. The Royal Holloway research team, led by Dr Emily Glorney, collaborated with multiple public and third sector services across the county to address the research issue of how to enhance support for children and young people at risk of exclusion and promote inclusion. The research provided the evidence on which to base decision-making in Surrey. 

On 16 March 2021, to mark Global Social Work Day, the Departments of Law and Criminology (LAC), and Social Work (SW), here at Royal Holloway University of London held an important online forum. With key contributions from a range of speakers from within Law, academia, social work practice, and the wider community, the event shone a light on the ways in which the professions of law, and social work have been responding to the needs and concerns of vulnerable families and children during the Covid-19 pandemic. The symposium was chaired by Professors Ravinder Barn and Anna Gupta. Key speakers to this event included:

A report of the event, as well as the transcripts of the speakers' presentations, are available here.


Selected Events in 2020

In October 2020, based on her longstanding research contribution to the field of fostering and adoption, Professor Ravinder Barn was invited to join panellists Baroness Lola Young (House of Lords), Andy Elvin, from TACT (UK’s largest fostering & adoption charity); and Brigitte Jordaan, Director of Children Social Care, Barnet, in a live panel discussion on the theme of ‘Foster Care for Adolescent with Complex Needs’.  The event was organised to help launch the report ‘Caring for All: A comparative study of foster care for adolescents with "complex needs"' by Laurelle Brown, who was funded by the Churchill Fellowship scheme to undertake this work. Panellists discussed a range of issues and concerns including the importance of working with birth families, recruitment of carers from diverse backgrounds, supporting young people in forming and sustaining networks and developing practical independent living skills, and therapeutic support for young people. A recording of this event is available here.

In October 2020, Prof Barn gave a valedictory address at the fourth International Conference on "Migration, Diasporas and Sustainable Development: Perspectives, Policies, Opportunities and Challenges", Delhi, India. In February 2021, Prof Barn delivered two invited papers, at the International Sociological Association conference in Brazil, titled Digital Technology and Youth Justice: Practitioner Perspectives on Shaping and Being Shaped by Social Technology in the Public Sector’ and This is a Man’s World? Understanding the Experiences of Senior and Mid-Ranking Women Police Officers in Punjab, India.

Prof Gupta presented with Dr Yuval Saar-Heiman on Poverty-Aware Practice in Child Protection at two conferences for the NSPCC All of Us campaign in Edinburgh (November 2020) and Glasgow (February 2021). 

Victoria Adkins: The Birds and the Bees…and the Artificial Womb

Alison Benjamin: The Impact of Fostering on Foster Carers’ Birth Children and How this Links with Placement Stability for Looked After Children Living in Foster Families

Yesha Bhagat: Gaining the voice of Fathers who had their children removed

Isabella Da Re: Conceptualising ‘Female Suffering’: Reconciling Gynocentric Realities of Suffering with the International Prohibition of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Courtney Hagen-Ford: Watching and Being Watched: parents' and children's views on the use of family surveillance products

Emma Holland

Cynthia Mbugua: Nothing about us without us: The contretemps between legislative reform and culture in regulating Assisted Reproductive Technology in Kenya

Anna Pathé-Smith: Pregnancy and the law - how are pregnant persons conceptualised in law?

Asma Riaz: Understanding the notion of empowerment: A study of women survivors of violence in Punjab, Pakistan

Natalia Sali: The impact of migration on migrants’ mental health and emotional wellbeing: A Case study of 25 Filipino migrants in the UK

Emese Szasz: Seeking help from NGOs in cases of human trafficking pertaining to sexual exploitation

Jeremy Woloszyn: The Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales

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