New Centre of Excellence will improve outcomes for vulnerable families and children in safeguarding systems

Professor Lauren Devine
Professor Lauren Devine

A research grant awarded to a Lancaster University professor will establish a new Centre of Excellence to improve safeguarding outcomes and aspects of the Family Justice system.

Professor Lauren Devine, new to Lancaster University, has been awarded £2.09m from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) towards a £2.5m+ project applying corpus linguistics – the use of computers to study large datasets of language – across contemporary aspects of safeguarding and the family justice system.

The project is one of only six chosen to receive a share of the ESRC’s £12.1m Large Grant investment announced today. The selected projects address a range of pressing regional, national, and international issues, generating real impacts to benefit communities.

Led by Lancaster, with hubs (LABs) at Aston and Birmingham City University, Professor Devine will establish a multi-site centre of excellence, the CLASS Centre (Centre for Corpus Linguistic Approaches to Safeguarding Studies).

Professor Devine’s team will use the grant to create corpus linguistic resources and tools to help understand and improve the experience of vulnerable children and families who face inequalities. The project aims to reduce vulnerable families becoming disproportionately involved in safeguarding processes and will also make recommendations to improve their experience where involvement is necessary.

The project outputs will include a website, a new model for global safeguarding protocols, a toolkit for improving access to justice and listening to family voices in the family justice system, and new tools to improve children’s online safety.

Professor Devine said: “I am delighted that our project has been selected for funding by the ESRC. Lancaster is the ideal University to lead this project and build on the work of the Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences (CASS) Centre, extending into this new field of corpus-linguistic studies. The project brings together established researchers from linguistics, law, and data science. It also creates several new posts for early career researchers and doctoral studies who will work to develop new methods, protocols, and resources to improve aspects of safeguarding and the family justice system.”

ESRC executive chair Stian Westlake added: “These large-scale projects bring together world-class researchers to address important, global issues that affect some of the world’s most vulnerable people. They are a great example of how the ideas and inspiration of social science researchers can help shape our thinking on long-term societal challenges.”

In addition to the £12.1 million from the ESRC, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is contributing £500,000 to a project on flood and heat resilience.

The other five projects receiving grants are:

  • Economic opportunities across racial and ethnic groups in the United Kingdom, led by Professor Imran Rasul at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)
  • Justice in Earth Observation for Conservation, led by Dr Rose Pritchard and Dr Tim Foster at the University of Manchester
  • Multilingualism, conflict, and conflict resolution in Africa: the challenges and opportunities of linguistic practice and policy, led by Professor Kristian Gleditsch at the University of Essex
  • Building resilience to floods and heat in the maternal and child health system in Brazil and Zambia (REACH), led by Dr Josephine Borghi at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Disentangling involvement in, and the impact of, integrated health and criminal justice systems: a North of England research consortium, led by Dr Stephanie Scott at Newcastle University
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