Research and Practice Developments

What contribution does Family Group Conferencing make to children and families’ longer-term outcomes?

This PhD research is a 1+3 collaborative studentship, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is a partnership between CHILDREN 1ST, the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships and the University of Edinburgh. The project aims to explore what associations (if any) Family Group Conferencing (FGC) as a child welfare decision-making forum has with longer-term outcomes (both expected and unexpected) for those children and families who have been involved in the process.  'Longer-term’ means 12 months (or longer) after a FGC meeting.


Exploring the use of survival sex/ sex work by adolescent boys and transgender young people who are experiencing homelessness.

In the United States, trans young people experiencing homelessness who engage in ‘survival sex’, defined as the exchange of sex for food, shelter, money or other items, are marginalised by foundational, structural and institutional inequalities concerning gender, race and sexual orientation. Current research from fields such as education, social work, homelessness, geography, psychology, health, criminal justice and sex work indicates that trans young people in the US experience elevated levels of discrimination. 

This includes health and wellbeing disparities related directly to their gender identity falling out with binary norms of male and female. These disparities span family, peers, community, education, healthcare, employment and law enforcement/ justice systems. The chief causal factor in trans young people becoming homeless appears to be conflict at, or ejection from, home after having been either ‘found out’ or revealing their gender identity and or sexual orientation. This, together with a lack of understanding of their unique physical and emotional needs by social services and youth homelessness services, leads trans young people to feel that they are safer on the street. 

This research aims to explore trans young people’s lived experiences in both the UK and US comparatively as no such research has been undertaken previously. If are working with any trans young people who may be willing to be a participant in the study please get in contact at or 0141 273 1833.

Lorna Barton is a second year PhD Candidate in the Psychology, Social Work and Allied Health Department at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). Lorna’s research is a comparative study of the UK and US and is undertaking fieldwork in both locations. 


Substance use communication between looked after young people and formal carers

Hannah Carver is undertaking a PhD qualification at Edinburgh Napier University.


Parent-child connectedness and good quality communication about alcohol, smoking and drug use can be protective during adolescence (Kingon & O’Sullivan 2001; Ryan et al. 2010). However, for young people in care the context in which these protective factors occur is potentially disrupted and often the parental role is assumed by someone other than the biological parents. Some evidence suggests that good communication in general between foster and adopted children and young people and their carers can be protective against future outcomes, including self-esteem and educational success (Rosnati et al. 2007). However, no research has been conducted to explore substance use communication between young people in care and their carers, despite these young people being at increased risk of substance use and misuse (Braciszewski & Stout 2012; Kepper et al. 2014). This PhD addresses this gap by examining young people and carers’ experiences of communicating about substance use, in both residential and foster care settings.

Participants are currently being recruited to take part in in-depth interviews. Young people in foster and residential care aged between 12 and 19 years are being sought to participate. Those working directly with looked after young people, particularly foster carers and residential care staff are also invited to take part. The study has been granted ethical approval from Edinburgh Napier University and from the City of Edinburgh Council. So far, three interviews have been conducted.  

If you would like to participate in an interview or would be able to help identify carers or young people who might, please get in touch.


Participant information sheet - carers

Participant information sheet - young people

For further information or to participate, please contact Hannah at

Drug Using Relationships in Scotland: the service user and service provider perspective

Andrea Beavon is undertaking a PhD qualification with the University of the West of Scotland, exploring intimate partner relationships between drug users, the impact of drugs on intimate relationships and the wider influence of practitioner attitude to such relationships.

Research suggests that “there has been no large scale systematic UK investigation of the differences between male and female drug users seeking treatment” (Neale 2004) and that “addiction literature has traditionally focussed on men, women being peripheral to drug research” this is supported by Ettorre (1992) and Henderson (1999). Where female drug use has been explored, women have been portrayed as “victims” or as weak, self-destructive or insecure, and presented as “sicker, more deviant and more psychologically disturbed that their male peers” (Cotton 1979, Ettorre 1989). The focus for research in the last 30 years has been on mothering, childbearing and involvement in deviance such as criminality and prostitution. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that women who experience domestic abuse and problematic substance use need support services to acknowledge and work with the “other issue” (James et al 2004, Galvani 2006a, Galvani 2006b) in order that their safety is not compromised. However there is no evidence which shows that by asking women about their experiences of domestic abuse they experience less harm, are safer or use less drugs/alcohol. 

Studies use different definitions of gender based violence based on the assumption that women are also able to “name” their experience as abusive. Additionally there is little published evidence which provides any insight into how women who have problematic substance use, live with an abusive partner manage their drug use, safety and general day to day functioning. Anderson (2008) echoes this with a description of the “pathology and powerlessness narrative that has historically characterized popular and academic discourses about female substance abusers” She also suggests that the dichotomy of “drug abusing women as either victims (forced into drug use or trapped by it) or villains (addicts by choice who sell themselves for this selfish pleasure)” as socially constructed. Focussing on women problematic substance users addresses the significant gap in the research evidence to date, and focuses more specifically on nature of their relationships rather than the pre-defined notions and concepts of addiction, gender inequality, and vulnerability. Renzetti (2008) suggests that “the life histories of substance abusing women are often chronicles of victimization from an early age” but “such abuse is not a discreet, isolated problem and it cannot be understood apart from its interconnectedness to other serious social problems including gender inequality, economic inequality and contemporary social welfare policies that punish the poor” (Renzetti 2008:4).She concludes by stating that “women involvement in the illicit drug world, like their involvement in legitimate social activities, is multi-faceted and offers both positive and negative consequences”.

The study uses face to face interviews, focus groups and surveys to explore drug using relationships with female drugs users and with staff working in drug treatment services. The current policy framework for gender based violence and alcohol/drug treatment and recovery will also be explored. The data will be collected from women in treatment, in recovery and from as wide a range of settings as possible. 

The research is currently in the data collection phase, and access to female drug users across Scotland is being sought through professional and personal networks.


Please contact Andrea Beavon, Phd Researcher, University of West of Scotland on 07817 243 251 or

Dr Martin Kettle , Glasgow Caledonian University

Dr Martin Kettle works between Glasgow Caledonian University, where he is the Programme Lead for the MSc in Social Work, and South Lanarkshire Council, where he has responsibility for developing the research and evaluation agenda, as well as supporting and developing the partnership between the local authority and the university.  

Martin is a qualified social worker with over thirty years experience in practice, management and policy, including time spent as a Professional Advisor with the Scottish Executive on child protection reform. His recently completed doctoral research was a grounded theory study of child protection social work. His teaching at GCU focuses on risk and protection issues, the law and its application to social work, social work practice and research methods. His research interests include child and adult protection, professional identity, decision-making, inter-professional education and personalisation.  

He is currently working on behalf of the Scottish Social Services Council on accreditation pathways for Chief Social Work Officers, the most senior social work professionals in local authorities across Scotland. In addition, Martin is a Caledonian Scholar, working on the teaching of risk to undergraduate social work students.


Dr Paul Rigby, University of Stirling 

Dr Paul Rigby is a lecturer in social work at the University of Stirling.  

The issues of child trafficking and sexual exploitation continue to divide opinion regarding extent; the ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ of victims; and any clear understanding of how both trafficking and sexual exploitation fit with a broader conceptual understanding of the abuse and exploitation of children. Debate in Scotland has largely failed to engage with the overlap between child trafficking and child sexual exploitation, not least regarding the coercion and control of victims and their apparent ‘compliance’ and ‘relationships’ with perpetrators. 

Trafficking often appears to be largely viewed as the exploitation of non UK, usually separated children, ignoring the ‘recruitment’ ‘harbouring’ and ‘transportation / movement’ of victims of sexual exploitation.  Dr Paul Rigby has researched widely on the issue of child trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland, based on his research and policy experience over the last seven years. Paul’s research was the first in Scotland to adopt a robust, empirical methodology to investigate concerns around child trafficking that were emerging in Glasgow. Paul has been involved in the development of local and national child trafficking policy, and was the research lead for the UK monitoring of the London SCB child trafficking guidance and toolkit. He has published a number of research reports and papers focusing on the issues of child trafficking and development of effective responses. 

His most recent report investigated the sexual exploitation of vulnerable young people who are looked after and accommodated.  


Experiences of Home Supervision (now Compulsory Supervision) from the perspectives of children, young people and professionals

Helen Whincup works at the University of Stirling University. Helen is a social worker and used to work with children, young people and their families. As part of her PhD she has been undertaking research in a Scottish local authority. 


This research explores the experiences of Home Supervision (now Compulsory Supervision) from the perspectives of children, young people and professionals. Helen was particularly interested in what direct work took place between children and social workers/ social work assistants, and the meanings ascribed to direct work.

Eight children were involved (two in reference group, six individual interviews) ranging from six-15 years, and 11 professionals participated in individual interviews. Five managers took part in a reference group for managers, and eiight practitioners took part in one for social workers. 

As part of the process of dissemination two events were held in the local authority which hosted the research. The research summaries identified key themes emerging for children and young people (three different ones depending on age and stage), for parents and professionals.


Social Worker Decision Making in Cases Involving Sexual Behaviour between Siblings

Peter Yates is undertaking a PhD qualification in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh.


Between 1/5 and 1/3 of all cases of sexual abuse in the UK involve children or young people as perpetrators with siblings accounting for between 1/3 and 1/2 of the victims of these children. Sibling incest is thought to be the most common form of intra-familial sexual abuse and is an issue that social workers are likely to face. Decision making is a core social work activity and increasingly involves crucial decisions hinging on the State's role to intervene in private family life. To date there has been little research around removal and reunification decision making concerning children who themselves have been the source of abuse within the family. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these decisions are particularly challenging in cases involving sexual behaviour between siblings. Research into social worker decision making following sibling sexual behaviour is therefore a significant gap in the current literature. 

The purpose of the research is:

• To gather information about present practice in relation to cases involving sibling sexual behaviour
• To explore what influences social workers’ decision making regarding removal, contact and reunification in 

cases of sibling sexual behaviour 

• To explore how social workers experience the making of these decisions

The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and is being undertaken as a piece of doctoral research at the University of Edinburgh. Qualitative interviews have been conducted with local authority social workers and analysed in line with grounded theory methodology. The PhD thesis is in the process of being written.


For further information you can e-mail Peter Yates at

Exploring the meanings and contexts of substance use amongst homeless youth in Scotland

Jenny Hoolachan is undertaking a PhD qualification carried out in the School of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Stirling.   


The relationship between homelessness and substance use has been described as “mutually reinforcing” and “complex” (Neale, 2001; Pleace, 2008) and young homeless people have been found to demonstrate higher levels of substance use compared with older homeless people (Pleace, 2008). Youth literature typically focuses on the recreational use of alcohol and drugs whereas discussions of substance use within homelessness research tend to concentrate on problematic use. Research that has investigated the causes of youth substance use and youth homelessness has been criticised for producing homogenous lists. Taken together, it appears that despite the substance use of young homeless people being a particularly complex issue, existing research is too narrowly focused and often the analysis is overly simplistic. This PhD addresses this gap by taking a more in-depth look at how young, homeless people use and conceptualise drugs and alcohol. Influenced by sociological theorists such as Becker, Zinberg, Goffman and Blumer, an ethnographic approach was taken so that rich data were collected from a relatively small number of people. The fieldwork took place between May and November 2013 in a homeless hostel which accommodates young people aged 16 to 25 years old. Participant-observation, interviews and a focus group were the main methods of data collection and it was possible to follow up on one of the young people after she had left the hostel and moved into her own flat. The next stage in the process is to conduct a full analysis of the data before writing up the PhD thesis.


For further information, you can email Jenny at

An Adult Attachment Approach: Impact on Parenting Capacity Assessments and Building a Working Alliance with Parents

Catriona Rioch is Team Leader for Change is a Must, Perth and Kinross Council and undertook this dissertation as part of her Msc in Child Protection and Child Welfare at the University of Stirling.


This dissertation explores the importance of a relationship-based approach to working with parents drawing on the early work on attachment theory and more recent developments in this field, particularly adult attachment. The dissertation focuses on two separate but inter-related aspects of this approach: the client system – how adult attachment theory can provide a framework to inform how parents’ own life experiences and relationships impact on their parenting capacity; and the working relationship – how an adult attachment approach impacts on the service user/ practitioner interaction. Much has been written on attachment theory in general, though there is less specific research on adult attachment. To address this gap, the literature review drew on research from different disciplines such as psychology and psychotherapy, as well as more recent research on adult attachment, and literature relating to the current political and legislative influences on child protection work. This research found consistency in parents’ and practitioners’ views on the working relationship. Both parties found that the process of reflecting on parents’ life / relationship experiences was empowering for the parents, and helped them reconsider their relationships with their child(ren) and others. In relation to the client system, the research found that, where practitioners used an adult attachment framework as a structure for writing parenting capacity assessments, the majority of assessments met all the recommendations for best practice as outlined by research on serious case reviews (Brandon et al, 2008). This contrasted with reports using other frameworks where recommendations were only partly met.


For further information, you can email Catriona Rioch at

An update on research projects conducted by student social workers at the University of Stirling 2012-13

This booklet outlines a selection of the research projects conducted by students on qualifying Social Work programmes at the University of Stirling. The projects were conducted in the 2012-2013 academic year by students in their final year of study. They were designed and carried out by each student under the guidance of university staff, and with the generous co-operation of a range of statutory and voluntary agencies. The outlines presented here were made available by the students specifically for wider dissemination of their work.


How can Child Protection Case Supervision support Health Visitors in order to progress positive outcomes for vulnerable children?

Therese Duignan is Nurse Advisor Child Protection, Dundee Community Health Partnership and undertook the following research as part of her MSc Child Care and Protection at University of Dundee in June 2013.


Health visiting practice has changed considerably over the last decade. Health visitors are retiring early, there are issues with retention and recruitment and, nationally, there is a shortage of health visitors. In an employment survey carried out by the Royal College of Nursing (2009) health visitors reported low morale, feeling undervalued and overworked. There is consensus in the literature that supervision is a supportive process for professionals who are involved in child protection practice. The purpose of this study was to inform and influence supervisory practice. Using a phenomenological approach, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with two health visitors, four nurse advisors child protection and one locality team leader. The data revealed three themes which influenced their experience of supervision: the relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee; organisational context; and outcomes for vulnerable children. Two recommendations were identified for practice - that a training programme should be completed prior to supervising staff members and consideration be given to developing a learning culture within organisations. 


For further information, you can email Therese Duignan at

The Scottish dental practitioner’s role in managing child abuse and neglect

Christine Park (nee Harris) works for Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust but is starting at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Glasgow University from February 2014. She undertook this work as part of her MSc at University of Glasgow.


In 2006, all UK dental practices were sent Child Protection and the Dental Team. It is unknown whether the proportion of General Dentist Practitioners (GDPs), who suspect child abuse and neglect, and refer cases, has changed since then. The aim of this practitioner research was to determine the proportion of Scottish GDPs who suspected child abuse or neglect,the proportion that referred suspected cases, identify the factors influencing referral and the willingness to be involved in detecting neglect. A postal questionnaire was sent to 50% (n=1215) of Scottish GDPs. which resulted in a response rate of 52% (53% male). The most common factor affecting referral was “lack of certainty of the diagnosis” (74%). Almost three-quarters of dentists were willing to get involved in detecting neglect.  


For further information, you can email Christine Park at

Healing the Wounded Self: A constructivist grounded theory study on recovery from addiction in Central Scotland

Valerie Tallon is the National Advisor for Drug and Alcohol within Scottish Government and undertook this research as part of her PhD at the West of Scotland University.


The national alcohol and drug strategies signalled a shift in national policy on how treatment for alcohol and drug addiction should be conceptualised and ultimately operationalised within Scotland. The research to inform local practice however has primarily been conducted in America or drawn from the mental health recovery field in the United Kingdom. The aim of this study was to develop a coherent theory of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction in order to inform policy and practice and guide the local implementation of recovery orientated systems of care. The methodology was guided by constructivist grounded theory and was based on the lived experience of thirty-seven individuals in recovery from addiction and twenty one people who had experience of addiction within their family. The core category of recovery was identified as “Healing the Wounded Self” in the recognition that recovery from addiction was essentially a journey of personal and spiritual growth. This study demonstrates the relevance of our early years in the formation of our earliest memories of self-hood and how these can shape our life trajectory. The principles enshrined within the Getting It Right for Every Child agenda (Scottish Executive 2006b) and the importance of professionals working within alcohol and drug treatment services to “give voice” to their clients and those of their families is emphasised. This is vital in order that individuals and their families who have been wounded by addiction can contextualise the past, deal with traumatic issues that have been buried under the label of “addict” and receive appropriate psychological interventions and social support which promote and enhance self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-respect. Implications for alcohol and drug policy and practice are also explored.


Roadside Assistance: A qualitative longitudinal study of Includem’s Transitional Support Briege Nugent

This research is a collaboration between the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research and the organisation Includem. Includem has an international reputation for its work with young people with especially troubled lifestyles, and their unique Transitional Service is offered on a voluntary basis to help those who are no longer entitled to statutory support. This study explores in depth how the young people who work with Includem experience the transition into adulthood, and for those with offending backgrounds how progress towards desistance fares during these challenging times.

Background information on Briege Nugent 


An Open and Shut Case of Closed Questions - Susanne Goetzold Forth Valley Inter-Agency CP Training Facilitator

Children in Scotland who are subject to child protection interviews should be interviewed jointly by specially trained police officers and social workers who have attended training based on a national curriculum. This study, which was conducted in two strands, explores the effectiveness of the training, focusing specifically on the free narrative phase of the interview.