Monday, 21 November 2016

Understanding the wellbeing of international migrants

CRFR associate director Philomena de Lima introduces her new book International Migration: the wellbeing of migrants, in which she provides a contemporary understanding of migrants and migration processes and trends with a particular focus on issues related to the wellbeing of migrants and their access to services.

Migration appears to provide a dumping ground for all that is perceived to be going wrong with society at present. It has been a focus for articulating the concerns of sections of the electorate aided by specific political interests across Europe against a background of welfare reform, poor access to services, unemployment and anxieties about national identity. This trend was reflected in the UK Brexit referendum results in June 2016, the growth of ‘far right parties’ and xenophobic discourses about migrants in the European Union (EU) and ‘contracting out’ of EU border control to ‘third countries’ such as Turkey. These external border control practices are matched by internal bordering practices; migrants’ rights to access to public services such as health, housing and education are being restricted or withdrawn and regulations regarding immigration and granting asylum are being tightened. This increases the risk of negative impacts on the physical, social, emotional and psychological, cultural and economic wellbeing of migrants.

The international migration landscape is complex and diverse, with some migrants being more welcome than others. The book provides a contemporary understanding of the complexities of international migration focusing on the potential factors impacting on the well-being of migrants throughout the migration journey.

Why focus on international migrants and their wellbeing? The wellbeing of international migrants has tended to be neglected or marginalised in public discourses and in research. The main tendency has been to promote largely ‘instrumental’ views of international migrants from the perspective of host countries. Attention is given to the economic contributions of migrants to host societies and much policy and scholarly attention is spent on how to facilitate the adaptation of migrants (‘integration’) to host societies. That migrants are human beings with similar hopes and aspirations as those of host society populations is lost amid the noise of dehumanising metaphors and emotions of being overwhelmed, which are generated in public discourses. Migrants are members of households, they are parents, children, workers, colleagues and reducing them to their migrant status not only is reductionist, but also conceals their shared interests, emotions, experiences, and concerns with host populations.

Despite the challenges and amid the hysteria about ‘floods of migrants’ arriving at European borders there are also the efforts of concerned citizens and communities supporting migrants, as well as migrants actively involved in self-organising, protesting and demanding a right to speak for themselves.

Migrant wellbeing in the book is understood as a relational process that is created and recreated throughout the migration journey – from pre-arrival to destination and all that occurs in between – and is embedded in social, economic, political and cultural processes. It requires approaches that transcend disciplinary and national boundaries and transverses policy domains.

The book provides an informative overview of international migration issues and debates for social science students, policy-makers and those wrestling on a practical level with the implications of migration.

International Migration: the wellbeing of migrants is published by Dunedin Academic Press and is available to purchase on their website.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Silencing and disclosure in child sexual abuse

Ahead of her two seminar series on Childhood Sexual Abuse, CRFR Associate Researcher Dr Sarah Nelson writes for us about silencing and disclosure.

There is a great disparity between cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) which are known to the authorities, and its prevalence in society.

For instance, a major report (Children’s Commissioner, 2015) estimated that only one in eight sexually abused children is identified. A meta-analysis of more than 200 international studies of prevalence across 28 years, with 10 million participants, revealed self-reported prevalence figures (18.0% of women, 7.6% of men) which were 30 times higher than prevalence rates reported by authorities (Stoltenborgh et al, 2011). In my own study with abused young people (Nelson, 2008), they gave me fourteen reasons why they had stayed silent in their childhood and teens. These included:

  • fear
  • violence and intimidation
  • shame
  • embarrassment and humiliation, especially with their peers
  • mixed loyalties towards their abuser
  • self-blame and guilt
  • worry about the effect on their non-abusing parent(s)
  • uncertainty about what would happen
  • fear of being in trouble
  • a conviction that they would not be believed

Additionally, in boys there is often a pervasive fear of being thought gay, or somehow unmasculine.

In my book Tackling Child Sexual Abuse (Nelson, 2016), I also chart in detail a worrying and continuing decline in identified cases of CSA by child protection authorities throughout Britain, despite the high publicity for the subject. A considerable fall in CSA registrations and child protection plans has coexisted with considerable growth in those for emotional abuse and neglect. That suggests not genuine declines in CSA, but changed priorities in policy and practice.

For all these reasons, it is important that we renew efforts to find child-centred ways of enabling sexually abused young people to tell what is happening to them. While the new emphasis on, and national strategy towards, child sexual exploitation is very welcome, a failure to address the earlier CSA which makes so many children and teenagers vulnerable to CSE means that such exploitation can never be fully addressed.

In my CRFR seminar this week (Wednesday 16 November) I outline some thought-provoking research findings by Rosaleen MacElvaney and colleagues on disclosure and non-disclosure of sexual abuse among young people. They identify first an active withholding of the secret, which gives some sense of control in an unsafe world. Secondly there is the pressure- cooker effect created by wanting to tell, yet simultaneously not wanting to.

That means the secret is often blurted out without either prior planning or support. Thirdly, there is confiding: few children tell the people they’re meant to tell (teachers, police, social workers and so on). If they tell, it is usually to a friend or to their mother, neither of whom has a support system of their own.

Thus, say McElvaney and colleagues, “in supporting children to tell, the need for the secret to be contained and controlled must be respected”.

That doesn’t mean - nor should it mean - that we can offer them complete confidentiality. It can mean slowing down the process to the child’s pace, offering them more choice and control, creating genuinely child-centred environments, and switching the emphasis from relying so heavily on children’s testimony to a perpetrator-focused strategy.

In my presentation this week I give examples, among others, of Scotland’s innovative “Stop to Listen” (formerly Confidential Space) project being pioneered by four local authorities; of the successful Barnahus children’s houses from Scandinavia, now being actively explored by the Scottish government; of possible statutory sector alliances with confidential children’s services; and of imaginative perpetrator-focused strategies. These include both successful ones from the past which were closed down, and inspiring examples of perpetrator-focused models, which have been used in the fight against child sexual exploitation.

McElvaney, R., Greene, S. and Hogan, D. (2012) ‘Containing the secret of child sexual abuse’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(6): 1155–75.

McElvaney, R. (2013) ‘Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse: Delays, Nondisclosure and Partial Disclosure. What the Research Tells Us and Implications for Practice’, Child Abuse Review, DOI: 0.1002/car.2280

Nelson, S. (ed) (2008) See us – Hear us! Schools working with sexually abused young people, Dundee: Violence is Preventable, 18 and Under, www.

Nelson, S. (2016) Tackling Child Sexual Abuse: Radical approaches to Prevention, Protection and Support, Bristol: Policy Press.

Stoltenborgh, M., van Ijzendoorn, M., Euser, E. and BakermansKranenburg, M. (2011) ‘A Global Perspective on Child Sexual Abuse: Meta-Analysis of Prevalence Around the World’, Child Maltreatment, 16(2): 79–101.

Children’s Commissioner (2015) Protecting children from harm: A critical assessment of child sexual abuse in the family network in England and priorities for action, London: Children’s Commissioner for England.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Getting evidence into action: how can we understand what we already know?

Our Co-director, Dr Sarah Morton writes about the processes involved in setting up an Evidence Bank to support public and voluntary sector partners in accessing existing research evidence to help to inform decision making.

At the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships we have always valued working closely with non-academic partners. At the end of one particular research partnership with national family organisations (Cool with Change) we started a conversation about what other research the partnership might do together. Many of the topics our partners were interested in were areas where there was already a lot of research, but it was very difficult for these non-academic agencies to get a sense of what that research was. So we set out together to develop ways to make existing research more useful.

We explain the reviewing process we developed to address that issue in an article just published by the journal Evidence and Policy (Evidence synthesis for knowledge exchange: balancing responsiveness and quality in providing evidence for policy and practice). The process focussed on making sure that evidence was useful, timely and relevant, and could be put into action by people working in children and family services.

Why is evidence reviewing important?

Often people need to understand what we already know from research in order to develop services. Traditional systematic reviewing is time consuming and often doesn’t offer very accessible summaries. Our evidence bank process sought to address these issues.

What kinds of topics were reviewed?

We developed a range of ways of interrogating what partners wanted to know from research in order to define review topics. This involved visiting and revisiting questions like:
  • What is the general topic area you are interested in? 
  • What is the issue or problem you are trying to address? 
  • What do you want to know about this issue? 
But we also explored the potential uses of the evidence through questions like:
  • What do you plan to do with the data/report? 
  • Who will the data/report be relevant to within and out with your organisation? 
  • What difference do you hope that using the data/report will make?

In addition to spending time exploring what people wanted, we also created a scoping stage, where we would look at the literature in general terms, get a sense of its size and scope, and return back to a discussion of what the specific focus should be.

Through the process we looked at: Parenting Teenagers; Transitions to Primary school; How families have changed; and other topics.

What was different about the reviews?

As well as being tailored very specifically to real world practice issues, the reviews have a number of distinctive features:
  • They explain how the topic review fits in with the wider literature and which subjects and disciplines it comes from, to give a sense of the ‘evidence landscape’ in which it sits.
  • The scoping and final reports are peer reviewed by an academic and a user reviewer who has practical experience and knowledge of the field.
  • The reports are edited by a knowledge exchange expert, written in plain language with a short summary. 
  • Reviews contain ‘talking points’ that focus on the practical implications of the evidence presented, and aim to move thinking away from the idea that research can tell you what to do, towards the idea that research provides a framework to help decision-making. 
  • They are conducted in a shorter time frame with involvement from partners throughout.

How have the reviews been used?

We worked closely with partners to explore how to make the reviews useful. We tried and tested a number of approaches, from large forums, communities of practice, and linking with improvement approaches. They have led to some specific actions, for example:
  • In West Lothian a review of transitions to primary school was used to test and embed new approaches to supporting children and families.
  • One of the partners from the About Families programme used the evidence to develop new ways of including parents in the design and delivery of services. 
  • In What Works Scotland a review of partnership working has been used by local authorities to reflect on and improve the effectiveness of partnerships for public service delivery.

What next?

The Evidence Bank review process has been taken into What Works Scotland and is being used there for a number of reviews

Monday, 31 October 2016

Living in the shadows of dementia care

Dr Julie Watson is the author of our latest research briefing Face-to-Face: Relating to people with dementia until the end of life in care homes. Julie, a registered nurse, is a Research Fellow in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Health in Social Sciences. Next week some of her work features in the exhibition Living with Dementia: Fostering Hope, Challenging Fear, part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

An inspiring plenary talk by Professor Annette Leibing at the recent ‘Life with Dementia’ conference at Linkoping University, Sweden, described people who are living well with dementia, able to remain active and connected within their communities, as the ‘heroes’ of dementia. However, Professor Leibing cautioned that we must not forget those who are perhaps not seen as living heroic lives, who remain in the shadows.

People with advanced dementia who live in care homes, and those who care for them, remain in the shadows of dementia care. The daughter of a woman with advanced dementia living in a care home recently described to me her sense of her mother living in a ‘twilight zone’, and the sadness associated with this for her as she struggles to connect with her mum. This is an increasingly common experience for families as the population ages and the number of people with dementia rises dramatically. The experience of families who say ‘this is not my dad’ (Sikes & Hall 2016) while at the same time expecting paid carers to ‘maintain the person within’ (Davies et al 2016) points to the tensions and complexity of relationships in this area of care.

So how do we foster hope and challenge fear among people living with advanced dementia in care homes and those who look after them? 

One way might be to re-imagine our relationships – moving away from a focus on language and conversation to other ways we can connect person to person. The recently published briefing paper Face-to-Face: Relating to people with dementia until the end of life in care homes presents findings from a study into how care staff in a care home and people with advance dementia relate to each other, from which we can all learn. 

The Primary Palliative Care Research Group at Edinburgh University have just published a commentary on their vision to establish a Care Home Centre for Excellence, a care home where people would choose to come and live, not as a last resort, where they would receive excellent care and where students can learn and research can help us understand how best to live well with dementia until the very end of life (Hockley et al 2016).

Much has been achieved within dementia care over the last 20 years which is to be celebrated. Now is the time to build on that, shining the light into those areas which are still in the shadows.

8-10th November 2016: Living with Dementia: Fostering Hope, Challenging Fear

Edinburgh Centre for Research on the Experience of Dementia (ECRED), as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science in November are presenting an exhibition of photographs and short films produced with and by people with dementia. This exhibition, ‘Living with Dementia: Fostering Hope, Challenging Fear’ shows many people living well with dementia, challenging the stereotype of them as tragic victims of a disease which takes away the person, and the stigma associated with a diagnosis of dementia, which so often marginalises the lives of those living with dementia.

Living with dementia
Some of Dr Julie Watson’s work features in Exhibit 5 of the exhibition ‘Beyond words – the language of body and soul’. 

  • Davies, N, Rait, G. Maio, L. & Illife, S. (2016) Family caregivers’ conceptualisations of quality end-of-life care for people with dementia: A qualitative study. Palliative Medicine DO1:10.1177/0269216316673552
  • Hockley J, Harrison J, Watson J, Randall M & Murray (2016) Fixing the Broken Image of care homes, could a ‘care home innovation centre’ be the answer? Age and Ageing. DOI: 10.1093/ageing/afw154 
  • Sikes, P. & Hall, M. (2016) “It was then that I thought ‘whaat? This is not my Dad”: The implications of the ‘still the same person’ narrative for children and young people who have a parent with dementia. Dementia DOI: 10.1177/1471301216637204

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Learning about evidence and policy at the Scottish Government

CRFR PhD student Rebecca Black reports back from her internship at the Scottish Government 

This summer I had the fantastic opportunity to work as a PhD intern at the Scottish Government. I worked with the Children and Families Analytical Unit, there for three months - a departure from my normal role as a CRFR associate PhD student.

The internship, facilitated by the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science, was designed to provide the opportunity to work outside of my PhD topic while developing valuable experience and skills. Throughout the internship I took on a variety of projects across a range of topics: From early learning and childcare to children’s rights to Safeguarders’ in the Children’s Hearing System.

I was quickly thrown into the action with a consultation analysis. The Scottish Government recently produced guidance on Children's Rights and Children's Services Planning sections of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (Part 1, section 2 and Part 3 respectively). This guidance was put out for consultation and I found analysing the responses received really interesting. I had to quickly become familiar with the core components of the guidance and the Act and enjoyed distilling the responses into feedback for the policy team[1]. I also learnt a lot during this process, which illustrated the importance of the advocating and lobbying role that institutions such as CRFR play in ensuring that all voices are heard in the government’s work.

I also had the opportunity to see how policy and analyst teams work together to ensure evidence-based policy is crafted and implemented. The increased provision of early learning and childcare was one such policy initiative that I was involved in, producing two preliminary reviews of evidence for the policy team. This involved consolidating vast amounts of research to create a report that succinctly summarised the current state of evidence. These reviews were then incorporated in to briefing packs that were sent to the Ministers and policy teams to aid their decision-making.

One of the key highlights of my time however was working on the development and tendering of a piece of research. It was a novel experience and provided insight in to how research bids are put together and the selection process. It was great to see how analysts and policy-makers collaborate to ensure quality research is conducted and valuable outputs are produced. Having spent quite a while in the academic environment, being part of this process gave me real insight into a different facet of research and the practical processes surrounding this.

The internship, while short in duration, provided me with a wealth of experiences and developed a range of transferable skills (e.g. writing succinctly, writing in lay terms and working with different expectations). The experience has also offered me plenty of ideas on how I can improve my own PhD study’s relevance to policy, hopefully widening its future dissemination and expanding engagement with policy makers.

[1] The analytical report has now been published and available to view online at:

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Action! Young people as researchers and decision-makers

Research Fellow and City of Edinburgh Council youth worker Christina McMellon reports on exploring the Young Edinburgh Action approach to effective participation.

Young Edinburgh Action (YEA) is an innovative approach to implementing the City of Edinburgh Council’s Young People’s Participation Strategy, the aim of which is to facilitate young people’s meaningful participation in partnership working and decision-making. YEA supports young people to identify and research issues that matter to them in Edinburgh. The findings from action research carried out by young people are shared with senior decision makers at ‘conversations for action’ where plans are developed based on the young people’s recommendations for improving services.

The YEA approach is informed by the views of young people and professionals, academic theory and the need for local government to evidence the work that they do. YEA has developed a partnership with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships to share the learning from this approach. This partnership, headed up by Professor Kay Tisdall from University of Edinburgh, was awarded a Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grant by The University of Edinburgh’s College of Humanities and Social Science to create a short film about young people’s experiences of being a young researcher. The film will be used to stimulate discussion among academics and practitioners about the role of young people as researchers and about young people’s participation more broadly.

YEA: It’s a Film” takes viewers through the YEA action research process, including a focus upon impact, and gives a range of practical examples. One such example is of a group currently working on gender inequality: They held a research event for 60 young people who agreed that it is important to challenge gender stereotypes at an early age. The group decided to write a storybook for children aged 4-6 and worked with an illustrator to develop a story called ‘Alex and Charlie’ that looks at a day in the life of two young friends. After a conversation for action where the group members presented their work, City of Edinburgh Council agreed to underwrite the costs of publishing the book and gifting two copies to every nursery and primary school in Edinburgh. The process is not, however, always straightforward and the film does not shy away from stating the challenges (and benefits) for young people of being involved with the project.

The film is accompanied by a CRFR briefing paper written by Council staff that outlines the YEA approach: Young Edinburgh Action: Reinvigorating young people's participation in Edinburgh.

Young people are currently working on their own briefing paper which will complete a trio of resources exploring the YEA approach and stimulating meaningful discussion about young people being researchers.


Watch 'YEA:It's a Film' online here
Download the CRFR Briefing 'Young Edinburgh Action: Reinvigorating young people's participation in Edinburgh' here

Monday, 8 August 2016

Five tips for getting knowledge into action

This post, written by CRFR co-director Sarah Morton, was originally published on the Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research, (KNAER)/Réseau d’échange des connaissances pour la recherche appliquée en éducation (RECRAE) blog.

I think we are at a good time in the knowledge mobilisation field. We have built a body of research that explains a lot about what helps and hinders knowledge getting used to aid decision making in policy and practice. (see Oliver 2014). We are developing rewards and incentives to help academics get research out of the academy (e.g, and we are at least paying lip service to the idea that policy and practice should be informed by the latest evidence (KNAER is a good example).

Despite this, there are still many pitfalls along the way, and it is often easier to identify where things went wrong rather than success stories. The five tips I have identified below will not surprise many readers of this blog, and yet they are often the pitfalls that I see in practice. I’d really welcome any comments from readers about whether these are issues that you see in your practice, if I have missed something major, or if you disagree completely!

Five tips for getting knowledge into action:

1. Plan ahead

Any good project or process involves careful planning, but how often is evidence-use included in the plan? If researchers want their research to have impact, a well-planned user engagement and KMb strategies have been shown to be effective ( On the policy or practice side, valuing evidence, showing leadership and embedding evidence into organisational practices are all key.

So what would a planned evidence use process look like? For those from policy or practice it might consider how evidence will frame any project or development ( , how it will be considered and built on, what will be done when people don’t agree on what the evidence says, and how evidence will be accessed, analysed and interpreted. For research teams and partners it would consider who will be engaged and involved, what methods are best for engaging stakeholders and how the research might contribute to change. This needs to move beyond simple ideas of making research accessible, into more complex and process focussed projects. (I have written about this much more extensively here

2. Get the right people round the table

In our evidence to action projects About Families ( and the Evidence Request Bank ( we learnt a lot about who is involved in evidence-use processes. Like others taking a systems-thinking approach (e.g. Best and Holmes 2010) we believe that it is essential to include a range of key actors in any knowledge mobilisation process. This would include considering the skills mix of any team in accessing, interpreting and animating evidence of different types. Any systems change also needs to include the perspectives of all key players within the system. Depending on the size of the change project these views might be represented in person, or through consultation of various kinds.

3. Have the conversation

Often the starting point for evidence use projects is the evidence itself, but there are a variety of discussions and framings that are essential for evidence to action. What is evidence needed for? What kinds of evidence might be useful? How will they be interpreted? How will evidence inform change processes? Who needs to be involved? Research doesn’t speak for itself so relationships are key to evidence to action. Effective facilitation of knowledge mobilisation needs an ongoing sense of open dialogue, regular revisiting of planned aims, interrogation of context, and keeping the conversation going about the usefulness and relevance of evidence. We worked with Research Impact ( and NCCPE ( to develop a manifesto for partnership research that can help frame some of this conversation

4. Focus on the process

Using evidence is not a one-off event, but an ongoing process. If people feel they have ‘done’ knowledge mobilisation then they are missing a trick. Using and reusing evidence, checking as programmes develop, and building up more evidence as events unfold are all essential parts of successful knowledge mobilisation. An ongoing focus on the processes can open up new opportunities, ensure ground is not lost, help address conflict and tension, and assess changing contexts and their implications for KMb. Overall a focus on processes helps to ensure knowledge mobilisation continues to be as effective and relevant as it can be.

5. Learn, evaluate, review

I said in the opening of this blog that we are in a good place in terms of understanding barriers and facilitators to knowledge mobilisation (although a recent review is opening up this conversation We are in a less clear place about what strategies and methods are most effective in which circumstances ( As a community of knowledge mobilisers we need to develop evaluation methods, reflect more deeply and write up what we find out. My own approach to this has been published here Every project needs a learning, review and evaluation process, even if on a simple team scale. As the field matures this will be essential in honing the craft, creating training programmes and developing the most effective strategies.

So those are my five tips for getting knowledge into action. How do they resonate with your own experience? What might you add? What resources do you use? I look forward to continuing the conversation: leave a comment below or find us on Twitter @CRFRtweets.

Best, A. and B. Holmes (2010). "Systems thinking, knowledge and action: towards better models and methods." Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice 6: 145-159.