Lancaster University and Kinship launch ground-breaking research project

Older woman showing a flower to a young girl

An opportunity for special guardians to influence future research about their lives is the focus of a new project.

The Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University and leading national charity Kinship have joined forces on a ground-breaking social research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Award scheme and the Department for Education.

The difference that kinship care and special guardianship can make to children’s lives by providing stable homes is receiving unprecedented attention in policy and practice.

The perspectives and experiences of kinship carers have contributed significantly to this focus and has led to their life-changing role being better recognised at local and national level. What is missing however, is their voices, experiences and expertise in helping formulate the research agenda.

Lancaster University and Kinship have partnered to address this challenge, coming together to work with special guardians who say they can feel they have ‘research done to them but not with them’ to co-design and deliver a ground-breaking academic research project on increasing participatory research in kinship care.

Led by professor and co-director of the Centre for Child and Family Justice Professor Judith Harwin, the research team will also include Kinship’s CEO Dr Lucy Peake and kinship carers Clare Walsh and Sharon Macpherson, who all have strong academic research credentials.

The first of its kind, the project will entail working with special guardians every step of the way so that they are able to shape resources to support the co-design of research initiatives from the initial idea through to the final output.

Through focus groups with special guardians and with researchers, the research team will chart the opportunities, obstacles, and solutions to centring their involvement.

The project’s key outputs will be the production of a report on the findings and the development of a toolkit to guide future participatory research, whether that’s led by funders, academics or policy-makers.

The project will enable special guardians and other kinship carers to participate in research to help develop better evidence that can be used to improve services and support for families like theirs.

Professor Harwin welcomed the partnership.

She said: “Compared to adoption and fostering, special guardianship remains under-researched. I’m delighted to be leading this project, which we believe will maximise the volume, impact and relevance of research in this field, with meaningful input from special guardians with lived experience and expertise.

“Involving people with lived-experience in participatory research has well-documented benefits and we hope that the toolkit we develop will enable academic colleagues, policy-makers, practitioners and other organisations who interface with special guardians to engage them and develop an evidence-base which reflects crucial lived experiences.”

Kinship CEO Dr Lucy Peake added: “As the Government prepares to respond to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, it’s absolutely vital that the voices, experiences and expertise of kinship carers are influencing the decisions impacting their lives.

“Working with Lancaster University and alongside special guardians, including two research associates will play a pivotal role in developing best practice for engaging special guardians in research and sharing our learnings across the sector to enable a range of other partners to do the same. I’m confident this will ensure that the evidence and insight informing policy and practice truly reflects the experiences and aspirations of kinship carers.”

The project builds on the University of Lancaster and Kinship’s previous partnership work - along with CoramBAAF, in developing a series of highly successful films centring the voice of special guardians. Final reports from the present project are expected in the spring.

The work was developed with special guardians and other members of the Special Guardianship Task Group of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board. The ASGLB and the Task Group were disbanded in December 2022 so this project is now reporting to the Department for Education.

If you are a special guardian interested in getting involved in the research please contact to register your interest and find out more.

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