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Child Welfare Research Group

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The Child Welfare Research Group is co-directed by Professor Nina Biehal and Jo Dixon


Nina Biehal
Group Co-Director

Professor Nina Biehal has many years’ experience of leading research teams and managing large grants. She has directed major studies of children and young people funded by the DfE and its predecessors, including an evaluation of services for adolescents on the edge of care, studies of outcomes for fostered and adopted children and for children returning home from care, quality of care in children’s homes and going missing from care placements. She has also directed several government-funded evaluations of national pilot programmes: Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care for adolescents (for DCSF), Social Pedagogy in children’s residential care (for DfE) and Intensive Fostering for young offenders (for YJB). 

Other studies of looked after children have been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and by charities, including the Nuffield Foundation and the NSPCC. She is currently working on a study of outcomes for fostered and adopted children in Scotland and a comparative study of child protection in three European countries. She is skilled in both quantitative and qualitative research, with particular expertise in conducting RCTs and other types of evaluation and in qualitative research with children and young people.

Professor Biehal has also contributed to policy development in the field of children’s services. She was invited to be an expert witness to the Education Select Committee on Child Protection (2011) and to the House of Lords Select Committee on Adoption Legislation (2012). In recent years she has  been a member of DfE expert working groups on Returning Home from Care (2012-13), Permanence for Looked After Children (2012-15) and the Children's Homes Reform Programme (2013-14).

Jo Dixon
Group Co-Director

Jo Dixon

Jo Dixon has been carrying out research on young people in and leaving care since joining SPSW in 2000. She has been PI and Co PI on several studies and evaluations of interventions, experiences and outcomes for care leavers and of innovative approaches to supporting young people in foster and residential care and adolescents on the edge of care. She has been awarded funding from government, local authority, third sector and research foundation sources.

Jo is experienced in research and evaluation design and a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches. This includes RCTs and participatory and peer research techniques. Jo’s particular expertise lies with research on young people leaving care. She was lead researcher on a national study of leaving care policy, practice and outcomes in Scotland and a government funded study of the costs and outcomes of leaving care in England.

As PI she led a large study of Corporate Parenting for young people in and leaving care, a government funded evaluation of the New Belongings programme for care leavers and several single site evaluations of local authority programmes for young people leaving care.  She has recently completed three DfE Innovation Programme evaluations.

Jo is committed to carrying out research that offers a positive and empowering experience for young people participating as respondents, peer researchers and young advisors and that research findings feed into practice. She regularly contributes to MRC and National Leaving Care Benchmarking practitioner seminars and delivers teaching sessions on young people leaving care to social work and social policy students. She is an advisor on several current research projects and has published widely in the field of children’s social care.

Kelly Devenney

Dr Kelly Devenney

Dr Devenney returned to education as a mature student and completed a BA in Social Work. Kelly then completed both a MRES and PhD at the University of York.

The PhD research centred on the experiences of unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people as they transition to adulthood. This research developed creative visual methods for engaging young people from a diverse range of backgrounds in the research process.

On completing her thesis Kelly spent two years lecturing in Childhood and Youth studies at York St John University before returning to the University of York in September 2018.

Nicola Moran

Nicola Moran

Dr Nicola Moran is a qualitative social science researcher with 17 years’ experience and expertise in evaluative work. She has worked on the DfE's National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS), the national evaluation of the individual budgets pilots in adult social care (IBSEN study) for DH, and the evaluation of the impact and outcomes of Individual budgets on carers (IBSEN-Carers study) also for DH. 

Nicola has long-standing research interests in mental health, autism, and transition.  In recent years she worked on a national study exploring models of multi-agency transition services for children with disabilities and complex health needs; led a project examining transition services for children and young people with autistic spectrum conditions including Asperger's Syndrome; undertook a rapid systematic review of the qualitative evidence around the psycho-social support needs of children and young people with life-limiting conditions and their families; and is currently leading on the development of a bespoke mental health training package for front-line police officers (evaluated via a randomised controlled trial), which is also being adapted for social workers and personal advisers who work with children who have experience of maltreatment. 

The majority of Nicola's applied research and evaluative work has been multi-disciplinary, involving collaboration with other academic departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts/PCTs/CCGs, central government departments, and other external organisations.  Nicola is also a member of the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research located at the University of York.

Jade Ward

Jade Ward

Jade Ward is an expert in participatory and coproduction methods with young people in a leaving care. For over 10 years Jade has worked on multiple projects engaging and empowering young people to have a voice. This includes working in the charity sector, educational services and research.

Her participation and service development experience includes managing a national forum of young people from 50 local authorities to improve services and produce information guides on new legislation and guidance for children in and leaving care and also facilitating the LILAC project, supporting young people in care to become assessors of children’s services. 

Over the past 5 years Jade has worked as a participation and peer research assistant, contributing to data collection for several research studies on interventions and outcomes for care experienced young people, including four DfE innovation programme evaluations. 

Her role has involved research interviews as well as training young people to develop, deliver and disseminate peer research. Jade has several publications in this area. Recent work includes:

Research and Participation assistant at SPSW University of York

  • The House Project – Stoke-on -Trent
  • The Right Home Project – Calderdale
  • Step Change – Action for Children

Peer research trainer

  • Brighter Futures – Ealing Council Peer research trainer & Peer research report
  • Corporate Parenting what Makes a Difference - Catch22 NCAS
Peer research trainer Data Collector – Oxford University


Peer researchers

Zainab Maqbool

‌‌Zainab Maqbool

Zainab is a part time Student Peer Researcher based within the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at The University of York, working on the DfE’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme (CSCIP) evaluations.  Her role involves supporting the participation of care-experienced young people in the evaluations (via focus groups and interviews), as well as providing her with an opportunity to develop her own research skills whilst continuing her studies at York.

Zainab is a Masters research student exploring identity and mixed race families in relation to Islam and gender. Prior to embarking on her Masters, Zainab achieved a First Class Honours in Sociology at The University of York, which also contributed to her being awarded the University of York’s MA Scholarship. Complementary to Zainab’s educational pursuits, she has also worked with Middlesbrough Council to improve library facilities and literacy opportunities for young people in socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods.

Zainab’s hopes and ambitions for the future are to contribute to sociological academic research at PhD level by continuing to explore the identities and experiences of mixed-race women that have a connection to Islam, this is a group of individuals that are currently non-existent in academic research. Therefore, by connecting her personal experiences and biography, Zainab hopes to shed light on how mixed race families raise children in relation to Islam and gender, and ultimately contribute to wider research on the presentation of self in society.

Amy Mook

Amy Mook

Amy is a part time Peer Research Interviewer working on the DfE’s Children's Social Care Innovation Programme evaluations within the Department of Social Policy & Social Work at the University of York. Her role involves contributing to participation and co-production activities to engage looked after children and care leavers in the evaluations and to provide general research support. 

The role provides an opportunity for Amy to develop her skills in all aspects of research such as data collection and collation and will include interpretation of findings and dissemination. Amy is a current undergraduate student at the University of Liverpool studying Criminology.

Amy contributed to the evaluation of Bright Futures research within SPSW and has written a number of articles surrounding social policy and social work issues. She strives to continue to pursue this passion using the knowledge obtained though her experience at the University of York to support her arguments for future policy change in children’s social care.

Previous work:

PhD students

Helen Baldwin

Dr Helen Baldwin

Helen is completing a PhD in Social Policy and Social Work entitled Responses to parental substance misuse by child protection services in England. She is working with children's services departments and substance misuse services in four local authorities to examine how child protection services are identifying and assessing parental substance misuse problems and intervening to protect children in these cases.

Helen has over ten years' experience conducting academic research in the fields of children's social care and public health, and has used a range of quantitative and qualitative methods in her work. Her research expertise includes child protection, child health, parental substance misuse and research methods.

From mid-2014 to mid-2018, Helen worked as a Research Fellow in SPSW on two major research projects, including an ESRC-funded study comparing outcomes for children who enter care with those for children who remain at home, and an international study of child protection systems funded by NORFACE. She also won an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award to undertake impact activities and co-produce a pilot study with maltreated children in partnership with a local authority.

In her previous role at the University of Leeds, Helen worked on an NIHR-funded randomised controlled trial of multi-systemic therapy for adolescents at risk of entering care due to emotional and behavioural problems. Helen has also held a research position at Liverpool John Moores University, where she conducted evaluations and original research in the field of substance misuse.



Sue Clarke

Sue Clarke

Research interests

  • Disabled children and young people and their families
  • Looked-after children
  • Older people with health and social care needs
  • Welfare benefits for people who are sick or disabled and their carers


Susan has over 15 years’ experience as a qualitative research specialist based at the University of York, first as an employee within the Social Policy Research Unit and now as an external collaborator working on a freelance basis for both SPRU and the wider Department of Social Policy and Social Work.

Throughout this time Susan has worked on research and evaluation projects that focus on services and support for vulnerable groups such as disabled children, young people and their families; older people with health and social care needs; welfare claimants who have a disability or long term illness or are caring for someone who does; and young people in and on the edge of care.

Gwyther Rees

Gwyther Rees has been connected with the University of York for a number of years as an Honorary Research Fellow and as a Visiting Associate within SPSW. 

Gwyther is Research Director for the Children's Worlds project - an international survey of children's lives and well-being and is also currently completing a doctorate at Cardiff University on the topic of children's subjective well-being.

Gwyther was formerly Research Director at The Children's Society where he was responsible for a range of research and evaluation studies (many done jointly with York) on adolescent maltreatment, looked-after children, young people running away from home, disabled children, refugee and asylum-seeking children and youth justice.

Professor Mike Stein

Mike Stein is emeritus professor within SPSW and has been leading research on young people leaving care and vulnerable teenagers for the past three decades.  His work has had an impact on research, policy and practice nationally and internationally.

Current research consultancies

  • Consultant to the evaluation of Foundation’s Springboard 2 Leaving Care project, funded as part of the Big Lottery’s Youth in Focus programme (2016-2018)
  • Member of Consultancy team to Focus Ireland on ‘leaving care’ (2017)
  • Research consultant to the Children’s Society Adolescent Neglect research programme (2016-2017)
  • Consultant to two projects, funded under the DFE Children’s Social Care innovation programme (2015-2016)

Research, scholarship and research networks

  • Joint co-ordinator of the International Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood from Care (INTRAC) – 17 member countries
  • Developing further comparative work on young people’s transitions from care to adulthood in European and post-communist Eastern European and Central Asian Societies (see Stein,2014) – data on 33 countries
  • Developing further work on the history of the rights movement of young people in care (see Stein 2015)  and the history of leaving care
  • Member of UNESCO global network on youth mentoring

 Advisory Groups and Reviews

  • Member of the UNICEF Children’s Rights Partners Advisory Group
  • Member of the Social Finance Steering Committee Leaving Care Analytics Hub
  • Member of the Professional Advisory Network for the Northern Ireland Care Pathways and Outcomes Study, funded by the ESRC
  • Member of the Laming Review on ‘Keeping Children in Care Out of Trouble’ (2014-2016)

Jim Wade

‌‌Jim Wade

Prior to entering research, Jim had an extensive background in youth work, community education and social work with young people.

After working as a Research Fellow at University of Leeds (1990-1995), he joined the Department in 1995, initially in the Social Work Research and Development Unit (SWRDU) and then, as Senior Research Fellow, in the Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU). Jim formally retired in October 2017, but remains research active and is a Research Fellow of SPSW.

Over the past 20 years or so he has managed a range of large-scale research projects for government, research councils and charities. He has published widely in the area of social work and related services for vulnerable groups of children and young people, including looked after children, care leavers, young runaways and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.