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A participatory approach to improving child welfare systems for children and young people in care (ref: RDF20/SWECW/DISNEY)

  • Full or part time

    Dr S Vincent
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 24, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Children in care represent some of the most vulnerable members of any society (Disney, 2017), and transitions beyond these systems are often marked by adversity (Stein, 2006). There is a need to develop more effective support systems for these children. Notably, policy has at times failed to engage with the needs of populations within these systems and the design of services have been tailored towards adults’ needs, rather than to the specific needs of children who use them (Vincent, 2016). This is particularly important given the impacts of significant changes to the funding landscape of local authority budgets over the past decade, and the implications of this for child welfare practice (Bywaters et al, 2015).

This interdisciplinary PhD studentship project will develop and contribute to emerging conceptual dialogues between the disciplines of Social Work, Education and Human Geography, with a specific focus on the needs of children and young people within the care system. Proposals that consider how child welfare systems struggle to address the needs of specific groups of children, such as those who have been trafficked or children with special educational needs, would be particularly welcome. The studentship will be based in the Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing, and will draw upon participatory approaches to research.

The project will be informed by current and recently completed research being undertaken by the principal supervisor into the operation of care systems internationally (see Disney, et al. 2019; Disney, 2017). In particular, it will build on research that has considered the spatialities of child protection systems and the experiences of young people in care. This studentship will extend this work. It is aligned with the Social Justice and Health Equity for Marginalized Groups Multi-Disciplinary Sub-theme within the Integrated Health and Social Care Multi-Disciplinary Research Theme (MDRT) which is led by the second supervisor.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 24 January 2020
Start Date: 1 October 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home/EU students with a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2019/20, this is £15,009 pa) and full fees.


Disney, T., Warwick, L. et al. (2019) ‘“Isn’t it funny the children that are further away we don’t think about as much?” Using GPS to explore the Geographies of Child Protection Practice’ Children and Youth Services Review 100: 39-49.

Ferguson, H., Leigh, J., Cooner, T., Beddoe, L., Disney, T., Warwick, L. and Plumridge, G. (2019) ‘From snapshots of practice to a movie: Researching long-term social work and child protection by getting as close as possible to practice and organisational life.’ British Journal of Social Work Available early at:

Disney, T. (2018) ‘Geographies of Children and Childhood’ Oxford Bibliographies Online: Geography.

Disney, T. (2017) ‘The Orphanage as an Institution of Coercive Mobility’ Environment and Planning A 49(8): 1905-1921.

Moran, D., M. Hutton, L. Dixon and Disney, T. (2017) ‘‘Daddy is a difficult word for me to hear’: Carceral geographies of parenting and the prison visiting room as a contested space of situated fathering.’ Children’s Geographies 15(1): 107-121.

Heslop, K. (2019) ‘Intergenerational engagement: A participatory action research study investigating the inclusion of older adults in the lives of young children’ in Research Methods for Social Justice and Equity in Education . Atkins, L. & Duckworth, V. (eds.). 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury, p. 208-214

Vincent, S. and Jopling, M. (2017) The health and well-being of children and young people who are looked after: findings from a face-to-face survey in Glasgow, Health and Social Care in the Community, 26:2, 182-190

Vincent, S. and Petch, A. (2016) Understanding child, family, environmental and agency risk factors: findings from an analysis of Significant Case Reviews in Scotland, Child and Family Social Work, 22, 741-750

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