Over the past two and a half years, I’ve had the pleasure of helping WWCSC choose some excellent projects to fund and evaluate. Between two open funding rounds, as well as specific calls for applications in areas such as further education, we had successful applications from projects as varied as a parenting intervention for care-experienced young people to a specialist mental health service for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
While the quality and innovative nature of the applications has been impressive, we began to notice a less positive trend appearing. We were receiving few applications from early career researchers and researchers from underrepresented groups, such as those with care experience or from minoritised ethnic groups.
We know this is not just an issue for WWCSC or in children’s social care research. Structural barriers across the research sector can make it difficult for researchers to break through and access funding. But in order to have a rich, thriving and innovative research sector, we need to ensure that we’re hearing as many different voices and perspectives as possible.
An important part of our mission is to build research capacity in children’s social care, so we need to ensure we are not just supporting ‘the usual suspects’. We recognise that we need to support researchers who are under-represented in the research community to enable them to get to this stage.
This is why we created our Spark Grant Scheme. These are small grants – up to £25,000 – that will be awarded to discrete projects that last up to a year. They are specifically for early career researchers and those from underrepresented groups, such as researchers with care experience, members of a minoritised ethnic group, researchers with a disability, or researchers returning to work after a prolonged absence, such as carer’s leave or extended sick leave.
We envisage the funding will facilitate new small-scale research projects, quantitative data analysis, or developing new models or interventions, through to conducting small-scale pilot studies.
We hope that our Spark Grant Scheme will not only help grow the evidence base in children’s social care, but also strengthen the research community by providing the next generation of social care scholars the opportunity to lead projects and to act as a springboard for larger grants in the future.