Round two of our Spark Grant Scheme: Building capacity in children’s social care research

Catarina Lovgren
Programmes Manager

20 April 2023

Our Spark Grant Scheme aims to fund new research in children’s social care, conducted by researchers who may struggle to secure funding through other routes, particularly Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and/or researchers from underrepresented, minoritised groups.

The mission

Building on the success of the first round of our Spark Grant Scheme, we are pleased to launch the second round this month, with three successful applicants receiving funding for innovative new research projects. The main aim of the scheme is to build capacity for evidence generation within the sector, by granting high-potential researchers, who are early in their career and/or from underrepresented backgrounds, the opportunity to conduct research into children’s social care. Our hope is that the research conducted through the Spark Grant scheme will lead to further research in these areas. As we begin the second round of the scheme, we hope that these grants will continue to provide opportunities for the next generation of social care researchers to lead projects that otherwise might not have been funded, to support increased diversity in research, and to act as a springboard for larger grants in the future.

The opportunities

An advantage of the Spark Grant Scheme is that it is explicitly designed to be a launch pad for future work. However, conducting high-quality research into children’s social care can be challenging, and the barriers to entry can be high. Our Spark Grant Scheme aims to address these challenges by using funding to provide an entryway into research, by providing opportunities for researchers to upskill themselves and broaden their professional horizons, and by enabling researchers to make use of WWEICSC’s networks and support. Billie Lever-Taylor, a researcher from King’s College London who conducted research to improve the understanding of the support needs of families where the mother has a severe postpartum mental health diagnosis, described how the scheme enabled her to extend her employment contract to lead a novel piece of research:

Not only did this help develop my leadership skills, but also the research fed into an application for a fellowship. If successful, this will facilitate a much larger body of research in this important, under-researched area; the Spark scheme will have been a very valuable springboard for this.”

Katherine Parkin was part of Anna Moore’s team at the University of Cambridge and supported on research into the early identification of mental health problems in children’s social care. Reflecting on her experience, Katherine mentioned that the scheme was invaluable for their team as well as for her personally in conducting her PhD:

[I am] so grateful for the support WWCSC has provided throughout the scheme, which has been an especially helpful learning experience as a PhD student – including encouraging pre-registration of analysis plans; quarterly update reports and progress meetings; knowledge exchange sessions and presentation opportunities; and publication and dissemination of results through a published technical report”.

In addition, the team was supported to access a world-renowned data resource and was subsequently able to link routinely collected data from social care, health, and education. This data access, and linkage, in turn permitted them to explore childhood mental health problems, and associated risk factors for young people in social care in Wales. The scheme also enabled the project lead, Anna Moore, to apply for the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship.

The research

The first round of the Spark Grant Scheme awarded funding to seven projects which covered a wide range of topic areas, including:

We hope that these findings will contribute to the evidence-base and provide another step forward in improving outcomes for children, young people, and families.

As the first round of the scheme comes to a close, we are pleased to announce the three successful programmes which will be funded as a part of the scheme’s second round:

  • What factors should be considered when developing protocols to work with domestic abuse perpetrators re-engaging with their children and families? This feasibility study will be led by Dr Helen Elliot and is conducted through the University of Greenwich.
  • Assessing the feasibility of a supplementary health assessment measure for young people in residential and foster care. This study will be led by Áine Rose Kelly through the University of Oxford.
  • Understanding how advocacy services support care-experienced young people to participate in decision-making. This study will be led by Sammi Fitz-Symonds through the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) at Cardiff University.

These projects are launching this month and the teams will report on their findings in February 2024.