Impact Case Study

Supporting disabled children and their families by influencing policy

Our research helped changed UK government policy on the family finding process for 6,000 children awaiting adoption.

How it started

The university research team has a long-standing engagement with disability politics, both personally and professionally. They are very interested in how disability intersects with other forms of marginalisation in people’s lives.

What we discovered

The ESRC-funded ‘Does Every Child Matter, post Blair?’ repositioned understandings of childhood and disability. It explored the experiences of children in health, education, social care and leisure.

The findings showed that joined-up provision is vital for children with special educational needs and their families. It evidenced the multiple ways in which disabled children experience discrimination, violence and educational exclusion. The research revealed that families of disabled children value short breaks, but find it hard to access them. In addition, disabled children who take part in community arts develop positive identities.  Researchers worked with disabled children and young people as well as allied practitioners to carry out the ethnographic inquiry.

In a second Scope-funded project, researchers looked at resilience in the lives of 42 disabled people aged 5 to 83. They discovered that resilience is not a personal characteristic, but created via relationships with others. Resilience can be developed through recognising the interdependent nature of people’s lives. This has important implications for the services offered to disabled people and their families.

"Manchester Metropolitan University’s research has become a core part of Scope’s new strategy and has also helped inform our plans around service transformation."

A third project looked specifically at adoption activity days where children and their social workers meet prospective parents over organised, fun activities.

The research found that adoption activity days are a successful means of family finding, particularly for children labelled ‘hard to place’ and that there was no evidence that parents and children matched up in this way are more likely to experience breakdown.

Why it matters

The research has led to changes in government adoption policy and had a positive impact on services for disabled children and their families.

In 2012, the Department for Education (DfE) announced that adoption activity days would be rolled out across England and Wales. By June 2013, 29 children had been placed through this life-changing method.

The DfE also used our research as part of an online training package.

Our research helped the Oily Cart Theatre Company to secure a Children In Need grant of over £53,000. This allowed them to deliver further multi-sensory theatre work to 800 disabled children.

The College of Social Work, quoted university findings on disabled children and identity in its 2013 Curriculum Guide: Disability, which provides guidance on the content of social work degree programmes.

Runswick-Cole’s work was used by the Leeds Educational Psychology Team, as part of their work supporting the professional development of practitioners. She wrote a regular column on inclusion for Nursery World, with 103,000 online subscribers. Runswick-Cole also jointly authored an article for Learning Disability Today magazine with a 15-year-old who had been involved in the university’s research.

Adelaide City Council have incorporated ideas from the Resilience research to improve their understanding of place making in the city in relation to disability and resilience.

Bill Mumford, the former head of the Winterbourne Joint Improvement programme referred to the resilience research and it has informed his understanding of resilience in the lives of people with learning disabilities.

Featured Researcher

Katherine Runswick-Cole

Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole is a Research Fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology.

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Phone 0161 247 2906