Influencing policy and service provision for disabled children and their families in the UK.
Submitting InstitutionManchester Metropolitan University
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
Research in the area of Critical Disability Studies carried out at
Manchester Metropolitan University has directly led to a change in
government policy on the family finding process for 4,000 children in the
UK currently awaiting adoption. At both national and regional level, the
research has influenced the provision of services for disabled children
and their families, ranging from the commissioning of short break services
to funding decisions for charity. The research has also influenced the
strategy of Scope, the disability charity, with regard to resilience in
disabled people's lives, and contributed to the training of teachers for
children with learning disabilities.
Recent anti-discrimination legislation (notably the Equality Act 2010)
has attempted to remove barriers experienced by disabled people, for
example, in the workplace. It can be argued, however, that the removal of
barriers alone is counter-productive in that it defines the disabled
person as the focal point of the problem. Critical Disability Studies, a
fairly young discipline, challenges that focus on barrier removal,
advocating a fundamental shift in thinking towards a different concept of
what is normal.
Since 2008, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has undertaken a
sustained programme of research in Critical Disability Studies, involving
Dan Goodley (Professor of Psychology and Disability Studies, 2007-2011);
Dr Rebecca Lawthom (Reader in Community Practice, since 1999); and Dr
Katherine Runswick-Cole (Research Fellow, since 2008). The research fell
into three distinct areas:
The first project, Does Every Child Matter, post Blair? The
interconnections of disabled childhoods ran from 2008 to 2011. Funded
through external grants, it pioneered a Critical Disability Studies
approach to reposition understandings of childhood and disability. Through
repeated interviews with 30 families and allied professionals, as well as
focus groups, the project explored the experiences of children aged 5 to
16 in areas including health, education, social care and leisure. Key
findings included the fact that joined-up provision is required for
children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities
(SEND) and their families [3.1] disabled children continue to
experience discrimination, violence and educational exclusion [3.3,
3.4]; families of disabled children and young people value short
breaks, yet barriers remain to accessing them; and that disabled children
who participate in community arts develop positive identities and a sense
of community [3.5]. The project also identified a shifting policy
agenda for disabled children and young people [3.1, 3.2].
The second project, which ran in 2011/2012 and was funded by the
disability charity, Scope, examined resilience in the lives of disabled
people across the life course. The study drew on the life stories of 42
disabled people aged 5 to 83, followed by focus groups and the development
of a resilience toolkit. Findings included the insight that resilience is
not a personal character trait, but is made in relationships with others
and with access to resources; and that resilience can be developed through
recognizing the interdependent nature of people's lives [3.6]. The
toolkit, including a resilience map, was the main practical outcome.
The third project, carried out in 2011/2012, examined the effectiveness
of adoption activity days — days when children and their social workers
have the chance to meet prospective adoptive parents over organised "fun"
activities, without the prospective adopters knowing the children's
history up front. The research involved Runswick-Cole participating as a
volunteer and charting her observations, as well as interviewing
prospective adopters, children and other participants. She found that
adoption activity days are a successful means of family finding,
particularly for children labelled `hard to place'. There was no evidence
that parents and children matched up in this way are more likely to
experience breakdown (Runswick-Cole, Hocking, Betts and Goodley (in
preparation). This model of working in commissioned research seem policy
shift from project reports and dissemination.
References to the research
[3.1] Goodley, D. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2010) Emancipating play:
Dis/abled children, development and deconstruction, Disability &
Society, 25 (4): 499 - 512. DOI:10.1080/09687591003755914
[3.2] Runswick-Cole, K. (2011) Time to end the bias towards
inclusive education? British Journal of Special Education, 38 (3):
[3.3] Runswick-Cole, K. (2010) Living with Dying and Disabilism:
death and disabled children, Disability and Society, 7 (1): 813 -
[3.4] Goodley, D. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2011) The violence of
disablism, Journal of Sociology of Health and Illness, 33(4):
602-17. DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2010.01302.x
[3.5] Goodley, D. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2012) Reading Rosie: the
postmodern dis/abled child, Educational and Child Psychology,
29(2): 53-66. DOI: 978-1-85433-708-5
[3.6] Runswick-Cole, K. and Goodley, D. (2013) Resilience: a
Disability Studies and Community Psychology Approach, Social and
Personality Psychology: Compass 7 (2): 67-78. DOI:
Grant funding (indicating quality of research)
D. Goodley (with Runswick-Cole) Does Every Child Matter, post-Blair? The
interconnections of disabled childhoods. Economic and Social Research
Council (RES-062-23-1138), September 2008-May, 2011.
D. Goodley (with Runswick-Cole and Lawthom) Resilience in the lives of
disabled people across the life course. Scope, the UK disability charity.
October 2011 - January 2013.
D.Goodley (with Runswick-Cole) Evaluation of Adoption Activity Days.
British Association for Adoption and Fostering. October 2011- 2012.
D. Goodley (with Runswick-Cole) Time to end the bias towards inclusion?
Economic and Social Research Council Festival of Social Science, 5th
K. Runswick-Cole. Finding a Family: the role of adoption activity days in
the family finding process. Economic and Social Research Council Festival
of Social Science, 3rd November 2012.
D. Goodley (with Lawthom and Runswick-Cole) Big Society? Disabled people
with learning disabilities and civil society. Economic and Social Research
Council. June 2013-July, 2015.
Total income = £532,315.
Details of the impact
The research has led to changes in government policy regarding adoption,
and achieved direct impacts on the provision of services and practice for
disabled children and their families.
As a direct result of the team's adoption activity day evaluations, the
Department for Education (DfE) announced in December 2012 that these
activity days would become part of the government's adoption reform agenda
and be rolled out across England and Wales [A]. By June 2013, a
total of 170 children had attended adoption days, and 29 children have
been placed — highlighting the life-changing significance of these events
for these children and their adoptive families.
The DfE also used finding from another MMU project, Does Every Child
Matter, post-Blair? as part of an on-line training package for
teachers of pupils with profound and multiple learning disabilities. [B]
The package was made available online in 2012 (The DfE has been unable to
confirm download figures).
As part of the same research project, the MMU team were invited by the
Derbyshire Parent Forum to evaluate short break provision for disabled
children in Derbyshire and present their findings at the Parent Forum
conference in 2011. Derbyshire County Council acknowledged the importance
of these findings and re-commissioned short breaks as a result, despite
funding constraints. [C]
Another part of the same project involved evaluating the performance Something
in the Air? for the Oily Cart Theatre Company — a play using
multi-sensory approaches to engage even children whose disabilities
normally prevent such engagement. Oily Cart used the MMU evaluation to
secure a Children In Need grant of over £53,000 early in 2013 to enable
them to deliver further such work to 800 disabled children per year over
three years. [D] The evaluation also helped Oily Cart secure
funding from other charities and the Arts Council of England.
The College of Social Work, a professional body that exists to ensure the
highest possible standards in social work, quoted the post Blair
findings on disabled children and identity in its 2013 Curriculum
Guide: Disability, which provides guidance on the content of social
work degree programmes. [E]
As a result of the post-Blair project, Goodley and Runswick-Cole
were invited to speak at the first Office for Disability Issues Evidence
Gathering Day in 2011, attended by around 100 delegates from different
government departments. Goodley and Runswick-Cole's work [3.5] was
also used by the Leeds Educational Psychology Team (part of Leeds City
Council) in 2012 [F], as part of their work supporting the
professional development of practitioners.
The Autism Education Trust cited the research in their pamphlet, So
what exactly is autism? in 2012. [G]
The team published their post-Blair findings in a range of
practitioner magazines and journals, including Nursery World (2009);
SEN magazine (2010); and Community Care magazine (2010)). As
a result, Runswick-Cole was invited to write a regular column on inclusion
for Nursery World [H], which attracts 103,000 on-line
subscribers. Runswick-Cole and Goodley jointly authored an article for
Learning Disability Today magazine (2011) with a 15-year-old who had been
involved in the post Blair project.
The Resilience research for Scope has, in the words of the
charity, "become a core part of Scope's new strategy and it has also
helped inform our plans around service transformation." (February
2013). [I] The toolkit developed as part of the project was used
by disabled young people to develop a "Guide to Life" (April 2013) [J].
Early in 2013, the MMU team completed a feasibility study to explore how
the paper-based tool kit can be made available on an accessible digital
To raise awareness and understanding of disability issues and the
research findings amongst the general public, the team launched a YouTube
channel in 2008, which by the end of July 2013 had received over 7,252
The research team have also discussed their findings in the local and
national media (Goodley, Meet the Prof, BBC Radio Manchester
October 2008; Runswick-Cole, Today, BBC Radio 4; Radio 5 live
Victoria Derbyshire (including discussion with listeners); BBC
Radio Scotland Drivetime and The Times newspaper (all 26th
The team actively engaged with the users of their research through 4
stakeholder workshops for a total of 30 social workers, carers, adoptive
parents and others between 2009 and 2012. Participant feedback was
collected on film after one adoption workshop in 2012, with one social
worker participant speaking for many when she said that it helped her
decide to be part of adoption activity days in the future.
Sources to corroborate the impact
[A] Statement from BAAF on the future of adoption activity days: http://www.baaf.org.uk/ourwork/activitydays
[B] Department for Education on-line training package for teachers
of pupils with profound and multiple learning disabilities (MMU reference
on slide 6) http://www.education.gov.uk/complexneeds/modules/Module-2.1-Planning-to-meet-needs/All/m05p040d.html
[C] Minutes from Derbyshire County Council dated 2nd
February 2011. Available on request.
[D] Email from Oily Cart Theatre Company dated 11th
April 2011. Available on request.
[E] Testimonial on file from Senior Lecturer in Social Work and
Member of the College of Social Work corroborating MMU research influence
on College of Social Work, Curriculum Guide: Disability: http://www.tcsw.org.uk/uploadedFiles/TheCollege/Media_centre/CG_Disability_20Sept2012_proofed_FINAL.pdf
[F] Email from Leeds Educational Psychology Team available on
[G] Autism Education Trust (2012) `So what exactly is autism?' http://www.aettraininghubs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/1_So-what-exactly-is-autism.pdf
[H] Runswick-Cole's column Nursery World http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/article/1182747/benefits-cap
[I] Email from Scope dated 2nd May 2013 available on
[J] Guide to Life toolkit http://www.scope.org.uk/help-and-information/young-disabled-people/our-experiences/guide-life