Domestic violence article published in The Conversation

Anne Lazenbatt and John Devaney have recently published an article on domestic violence in The Conversation. The article highlights the devastating effects that domestic violence has on the lives of children. Read it online.

The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public. With over 75 per cent of articles republished in other sources The Conversation is a gateway to the rest of the media. Articles have been republished in publications such as The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times.  

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Summary report now available online featuring the findings from the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study

A new summary report on the findings of Phase 3 of the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study has been recently produced and it is free to download here. The report features two of the winning entries of the ICCR children's art competition that took place during the 18 years' celebrations of the Institute of Child Care Research. 

The Care Pathways and Outcomes Study has been following a population of children who were under five years old and in public care in Northern Ireland on 31st March 2000 (n=374). It aimed to find out where these children ended up living and how they were getting on in their placements.

In the the last phase of the study (2006-2010), ‘The Children’s Perspective’, we talked to the children themselves, as well as their parents and carers, to find out how they were getting on. The findings of this study were also published in a book format with the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) in May 2013.

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Special issue of Evidence & Policy Journal

ICCR Assistant Director Dr Kathryn Higgins, together with John Cavavan and Liam Coen from NUI Galway, have co-edited a special issue of the journal Evidence & Policy, which is entitled 'Mapping the field in evidence informed policy and practice – international perspectives'.


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Reflections on past event: Child Care Research Forum Conference 2014

On Wednesday 19th November, the Child Care Research Forum held the highly successful ‘Made in Northern Ireland’ conference, the third in the series, in the Hilton Hotel, Templepatrick.  The theme for this year was innovation and how it affects our research policy and practice.  The event has received excellent feedback and new enquiries and requests to join the CCRF are still coming!

Dr Kathryn Higgins, CCRF Chair, welcomed delegates from a wide and multidisciplinary range of stakeholders to the conference. She presented to the audience the history of the CCRF, when back in 2004, the Institute of Child Care Research started a trialogue between those in academia and the practice and policy communities. “It is testament to all of our success that we are all still here continuing that conversation a decade later’’, Kathryn said.

The conference was formally opened by Junior Minister Jennifer McCann. In her opening address, Junior Minister McCann commented, “The Executive’s Children and Young People’s Strategy is central to achieving key Executive commitments to help reduce poverty, tackle disadvantage and give all children and young people the opportunity to reach their potential.” 

She added, “It is important that we learn from experts, academics and practitioners as we develop government policy.  Following recent consultation feedback, we have decided to separate out our work on the Child Poverty Strategy and the new Children and Young People Strategy.  Discussions such as today’s event are very important in ensuring we are listening to stakeholders as we strive towards our shared goal of improving children’s lives.”

BBC Northern Ireland’s Mark Sidebottom got things underway hosting a lively and engaging debate session, posing the question: “Policies and Interventions not led by research are laid open to whim, waste and wonder’’.   Dr John Devaney, QUB, and Dave Rodgers, OFMDFM, fought gallantly for the motion; battling Ian Sutherland, SEHSCT, and Anthony Watson, Edenvilla Children’s Home, who argued against the motion.

Keynote sessions on the day included IRISS, The Institute for Social Services in Scotland, whoare an internationally recognised organisation renowned for its effective use of knowledge and research based innovation.  The closing keynote address was provided by Richard Taylor, Deputy Governor of Hydebank Wood Prison and Young Offenders Centre, who told of their innovative approach to youth justice and commitment to building partnerships across the justice and community sectors. 

Throughout the day, delegates were treated to a variety of presentations focused around the six high level outcome areas from the Children and Young People’s Strategy - Health; Enjoying, Learning & Achieving; Living in Safety with Stability; Economic & Environmental Wellbeing; Contributing to Community & Society; Living in a Society which Respects their Rights. 

Feedback from those in attendance has been wonderful with comments received stating “This was an outstanding conference in every way including content and facilitation, debate session was an excellent idea and a very successful way to open” and “The whole day was a delight…”.

We would like to thank all those who played a role in making this conference an outstanding success and we hope to see you all again at our next conference!

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Seeking to help improve practice concerning young people returning home from care: Study report has been published

ICCR researchers, Dr Montserrat Fargas and Dr Dominic McSherry, together with Professor John Pinkerton and Dr Greg Kelly have just published a report on the experiences of birth parents and young people who returned from care (i.e. foster, residential and kinship care) to live with their birth families while remaining subject of a Care Order. The study started in late 2011 and was funded by the Research and Development Division of the Public Health Agency (PHA). It explored the processes, background information, and perceived reasons why these young people returned home while remaining in care at the same time, in the five HSC Trusts in Northern Ireland. Researchers also focused on understanding the functions the Care Order had for social services, the birth parents, and young people involved. This was a unique study in that these families’ experiences have often been concealed in the public care research literature as well as the public eye. Its findings will help policy-makers and practitioners have a better understanding of this group of young people and their families, and the issues involved in working with them. The report can be downloaded here, and a leaflet summarising the study can be downloaded here.

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'Made in Northern Ireland': CCRF conference to focus on innovation and how it affects policy and practice

The Child Care Research Forum is hosting its conference on Wednesday 19th November 2014 in the Hilton Hotel in Templepatrick. The theme of this one day conference will be innovation and how it affects research policy and practice.  The event will showcase NI research findings with academic and practitioner partnerships; research methods, technological innovation and process of using innovation in research.

This is no ordinary conference, we have a lively and engaging format lined up which includes debate, audience participation and vibrant discussions on contemporary issues relevant to all of us working with children and young people. 

We are delighted to confirm IRISS, The Institute for Social Services in Scotland as keynote speakers and co-facilitators for the day.  IRISS are an internationally recognised organisation renowned for its effective use of knowledge and research based innovation. They are dedicated to enhancing the capacity and capability of the social services workforce to access and make use of research for innovation and improvement.

Austin Treacy, Governor of Hydebank Wood Prison and Young Offenders Centre has agreed to be our second keynote speaker!  Austin has brought an innovative approach to youth justice and is committed to building partnerships across the justice and community sectors. 

View the 2014 Programme here for full details.

Once again, as part of the conference, we will be running the Patrick McCrystal Poster Prize.  This competition is open to all postgraduate students and practitioners whose research is centred around children and young people.  The winners will be announced in an awards ceremony during the conference close. 

  • Download Postgraduate Poster Guidelines here
  • Download Practitioner Poster Guidelines here

To register your interest, please contact Louise Moss

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A paper authored by ICCR researchers- McCann, Higgins, Perra, McCartan and McLaughlin has been published by the European Journal of Public Health. Using data from the Belfast Youth Development Study, the study assessed the association between adolescent ecstasy use and depressive symptoms in adolescence. The paper can be accessed here

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A study by Amelia Seifert and members of the BYDS team- Mark McCann, Claire McCartan & Aisling McLaughlin, has been accepted for publication in Anthropology in Action. The study was funded under the Alcohol Research UK small grants scheme. A summary of the findings (alcohol insight) can be viewed here

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EXTENDED CLOSING DATE: A DEL strategic studentship offered by the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work and supervised by a Senior Research Fellow in ICCR, closing date 7th March 

The School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast, is offering a full-time DEL Strategic Priority Studentship leading to the award of a PhD. This studentship will support research which strengthens the evidence-base regarding outcomes for children in care in Northern Ireland. Funding is available for three years and will cover university fees and pay a stipend. In addition to completing the application form on-line, applicants must attach a provisional, methodological strategy (1,500 words) that addresses the outline research proposal below.  

Project Title:Comparing outcomes for children in statutory and independent foster care in Northern Ireland

First Supervisor: Dr Dominic McSherry (Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work)

Second Supervisor: Professor Carol McGuinness (School of Education)

Start Date: 1st October 2014

End Date: 30th September 2017

Concerns regarding the wellbeing of children in care are widespread.  Attempts have been made to improve the statutory provision of care across the UK, but the evidence base for positive improvements is limited.  More recently, there has been a growth in independent foster care provision as an alternative to the statutory model.  However, to date there has been no comparative examination of the wellbeing of children in independent foster care placements. 

The Northern Ireland Care Pathways and Outcomes Study (McSherry et al., 2013) has been following a population (n=374) of children through the care system in Northern Ireland since 2000.  The third phase of the study, the Children’s Perspective, has recently been completed and examined the health and wellbeing of children in a range of placements, including foster care (n=35), as provided by the HSC Trusts.  A number of standardised measures informed perspectives on the children’s health and wellbeing.  Furthermore, the research team developed a ‘me-book’ to facilitate a qualitative interview with the children.

The proposed project would examine a similar number of independent foster care placements, and compare the same range of coping indicators for the children, quantitatively and qualitatively.  Furthermore, as was the case in the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study, perspectives would be gained from the foster carers in terms of the extent to which they feel that these placements are supported by the independent agency.  

How to apply:

Applicants, at the time of first registration, must have a 2:1 undergraduate degree or equivalent (a 2.2 degree plus master’s scoring 60% or above is deemed equivalent) and a master’s degree, preferably in a social science or cognate area.  Training in research methods is also desirable. Selection will include an interview. Applications will be appraised using the University’s selection criteria.

For a full award (fees and stipend), applicants must have been resident in the UK for three years. Details of PhD studentships covering tuition fees and maintenance for home and EU students (subject to the Department for Employment and Learning UK residency rules) can be found here Successful applicants must meet the DEL criteria.

The deadline for application is the 7th March, 12.00pm. To apply, applicants should access the University’s on-line application system

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Researchers disseminate findings in the Belfast HSC Trust

ICCR researchers Dominic McSherry and Montserrat Fargas, together with Kerrylee Weatherall, Principal Practitioner and Manager in the Belfast HSCTrust and former ICCR Research Fellow, and Greg Kelly, former Social Work Senior Lecturer in the School, conducted a workshop in the  Belfast HSC Trust to disseminate findings of the Care Pathways and Outcomes study on 27th November 2013. The workshop was attended by 40 practitioners, including Chairs of LAC Reviews and Permanence Panels. This is the first of a series of engagements that are planned to share our findings with the user community.

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ICCR researchers present findings at SSM Annual Scientific Meeting


ICCR researchers recently participated in the Society for Social Medicine’s (SSM) 57th Annual Scientific Meeting held at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex on 11th -13th September 2013. Dr Mark McCann presented a paper on ‘the influence of parental monitoring and school environment on adolescent alcohol use’ while Dr Aideen Maguire presented a paper entitled “Stress and the City”, looking at psychotropic drug utilisation in urban versus rural areas. The conference was a huge success with over 200 delegates attending and a wide range of high quality scientific papers presented across a range of disciplines including health services research, epidemiology, public health, statistics, sociology, psychology, health policy and research methods research. As always SSM was well attended by service providers and researchers alike and provided an excellent opportunity for networking and idea generation. For more information on this, and next year’s event visit

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Disseminating implications of the CPO study findings to practitioners in the BAAF Autumn Conference

ICCR's research fellow Montserrat Fargas Malet gave a key note presentation at the BAAF Autumn Conference entitled 'Securing Children's Futures; Care Planning and Decision-Making for Looked After Children'. The conference was held on 1st October 2013 in Riddel Hall in Belfast. It was attended by social work professionals and lawyers. Montse presented a summary of the findings of the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study, and drew some implications for practice in terms of decision-making for looked after children. Her presentation was entitled 'The Role of Decision-Making in Influencing Outcomes in Long-Term Care'. You can find a copy of her presentation and other presentations of the study here.

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Key note address at the RAFT

Dr Dominic McSherry gave a key-note address at a Regional Adoption and Fostering Taskforce (RAFT) seminar on the 17th September 2013, in the Waterfoot Hotel, Derry.  The seminar was entitled ‘To Infinity and Beyond: Promoting Permanence for Looked After Children’.  Dr McSherry focused on the findings from the third phase of the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study.  Other speakers included: Mr Robert Tapsfield, Chief Executive of the Fostering Network; Dr Janet Boddy, Director of the Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth (CIRCY) at the University of Sussex; and Ms Priscilla McLoughlin, Director of BAAF Northern Ireland.  The event was very well attended by senior managers and social work staff across the five HSC Trusts in Northern Ireland, NIGALA, and voluntary agencies.     

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New research provides crucial insight into lives of children in care

The findings from one of the most comprehensive long-term studies ever undertaken into children in care were revealed at Queen’s University Belfast on Wednesday 11 September.

The Care Pathways and Outcomes Study is one of only a small number of studies worldwide that has taken a long-term comparative approach, providing vital information for practitioners. It followed a group of 374 children in care in Northern Ireland, over a 10 year period from 2000 to 2010.

The study’s findings have been published in a book entitled Comparing long-term placements for young children in care, authored by Dominic McSherry, Montserrat Fargas Malet, and Kerrylee Weatherall. The book reports on the most recent phase of the study, which involved interviews with 77 children aged 9-14 and their parents or carers in adoption, foster care, on residence order or living with their birth parents. The British Association for Adoption and fostering (BAAF) have published the book.

The launch of the book was attended by a mixture of senior managers, service leads, practitioners, academics and children’s advocates. Priscilla McLoughlin, Director of BAAF in Northern Ireland, hosted the event. Health and Social Services Minister Edwin Poots gave the keynote speech, which was followed by a presentation of the findings given by Dominic McSherry. Some of the study participants also spoke at the event. These were Patrick, a foster parent, and his daughter (subject to a residence order), Shannon, and Lorraine, an adoptive mother, and her adopted son, Adam. They gave moving accounts of their personal experiences. Greg Kelly, a recently retired senior social work lecturer who was a member of the research team, addressed some of the key implications for practice arising from the findings of the study. This was followed by a panel discussion. The panel included the research team (Dominic McSherry, Montserrat Fargas Malet, Kerrylee Weatherall and Greg Kelly), the study participants, Una Lernihan (Commissioning Lead for Adoption and Permanence, Health and Social Care Board), Frances Nicholson (Social Services Officer, DHSSPS), and Patricia Nicholl (Chief Executive, NIGALA). The concluding remarks were given by Barbara Hudson, Director of BAAF Scotland.

Commending the research team, the Minister said: “As Minister with responsibility for children and young people who are in the care system, I want to be assured that the quality of care provided for them is of the highest standard; that we are offering them the best chance of permanence and stability; that they are being enabled and facilitated to take part in decisions about their care and that they are being afforded the same opportunities as children and young people outside the care system.

“I want to congratulate the research team at Queen’s University for undertaking this important study. It is vital that we carefully consider the key messages emanating from such research to inform future policy and determine best practice on how to meet the long term needs of children in care.”

Priscilla McLoughlin, Director of BAAF in Northern Ireland said: “BAAF is privileged to publish the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study. The study is hugely important because those who make decisions about looked-after children’s long-term care need to understand how the children fare in each of the long-term care placements. It is also crucial in that it follows a group of children in Northern Ireland and takes account of how our unique demographic, social and structural issues. Its longitudinal nature is also important, providing an opportunity to consider the long-term implications of care options for children and for their parents and carers.”

Dr Dominic McSherry, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, said: “This study reveals a number of crucial insights and patterns about the lives of young children in care. They are important signposts for the professionals involved in the sector, and for parents and guardians.

“For example, until now adoption was considered the gold standard in long-term care placements. One of our key findings, however, is that from the children’s perspective, it doesn’t appear to matter significantly what the placement is, be it fostering, adoption, kinship care, residence order or returning to birth parents. It is the longevity of placement that appears to be the most important factor in achieving positive outcomes for these children, so long as they enter long-term placements at an early age.”

Findings included in the book, relating to the group of 9-14 year olds and their parents and carers, are:

  • Within Northern Ireland, the Southern and Northern Health Trusts have the highest numbers of adoptions, the Western has the highest number of children in foster care and the South Eastern Trust, the highest levels of children returning home to their birth parents.
  •  Despite a positive level of openness between parents/carers and their children across placement types, adoptive parents and some foster and kinship carers found it difficult to talk to children about their birth families and past history. Birth parents also found it difficult to talk to their children about the past.
  • Many adoptive parents highlighted a sense of being isolated after the adoption order, without access to a formalised support mechanism.
  • Eight of the 77 children interviewed had been diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and 5 of these were in the adopted group.

The new book Comparing long-term placements for young children in care is funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA) in Northern Ireland. Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of Health and Social Care Research and Development, a division of the PHA, said: “While this study provides a positive contribution to the experiences and outcomes of looked-after children, it also focuses on those areas which require significant attention from policy makers; service managers and practitioners. It provides an evidence base for decision making in relation to the health and wellbeing of young children being looked after.”

Comparing long-term placements for young children in care is priced £14.95 and is available from the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.

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Structural Equation Modelling and Latent Growth Curve Modelling Course using Mplus
Researchers from the Centre for Effective Education (Ms Seaneen Sloan) and the Institute
Of Child Care Research (Dr Aisling McLaughlin) have been awarded funding to co-host a 2
day course on SEM and Latent Growth Curve Modelling using Mplus on 21st-22nd November
2013. The course, facilitated by Dr Chris Stride (University of Sheffield) will cover the
following topics: introduction to path analysis, structural equation modelling and latent growth
curve modelling using longitudinal datasets. Participants should have a basic knowledge of
exploratory factor analysis and multiple regression analysis. Contact Seaneen Sloan
( to book a place. Early registration is recommended. 

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HSC R&D Public Health Agency Cochrane Fellowships

Congratulations to Dr Jennifer Hanratty and Dr Nuala Livingstone who have been awarded Cochrane Fellowships by the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency, NI. Dr Hanratty will conduct a systematic review on anger management for aggression in children and adolescents while Dr Livingstone will synthesise evidence from trials assessing the effectiveness of antidepressant and antipsychotic medications for reducing the severity of the core symptoms of children with autism spectrum disorder. Further details on their reviews here.

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Launch of book authored by ICCR researchers

A book entitled 'Comparing long-term placement for young children in care. The Care Pathways and Outcomes Study - Northern Ireland' is being launched tomorrow 11th September 2013 at 1 pm in the Canada Room at QUB. Edwin Poots, Minister for Health Social Services and Public Safety, will speak at the event.

The book presents the findings of the latest phase of this longitudinal study, which began in 2000. It is authored by Dominic McSherry, Montserrat Fargas Malet, and Kerrylee Weatherall.

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'18 Years 18 Stories': a celebration of 18 years of research excellence

On Thursday 20th June 2013, the Institute of Child Care Research hosted an event to mark their 18th birth year. Entitled ’18 Years 18 Stories’, the event took place in the Riddel Hall, and was structured to display eighteen stories from the past, present and future of this research centre. The event was officially opened by James McElnay, Queen’s University Belfast Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduates.

The first story of the event was presented by BBC broadcaster Mark Sidebottom. The story entitled “ICCR Past, Present and Future: Directors’ Perspectives” consisted of an interview with the three women who have served as Institute director since its foundation: Professor Dorota Iwaniec, Professor Rosemary Kilpatrick and Professor Geraldine Macdonald. All three spoke of the important and unique role the Institute plays in giving a voice to young people through research.

Dr Kathryn Higgins, Assistant Director of the Institute of Child Care Research, introduced two animated films illustrating the large longitudinal studies that ICCR has been conducting since the year 2000: the Belfast Youth Development Study and the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study. These short films were produced in partnership with Queen’s Media Services and featured visual representations of the studies’ key findings by local artist Patrick Sanders. The films can now be watched here.

Professor John Pinkerton introduced the two further stories, conveying the partnerships that ICCR has developed over the years with policy-makers and frontline service providers. Contributions came from Christine Smyth of the Department of Health, Social Service and Public Safety, and from Pip Jaffa of Parenting Northern Ireland.

The audience was then addressed by Rosemary Murray, CSM for Barnado’s Disabled Children and Young People’s Participation Project, and three young representatives of the Sixth Sense Group, Laura, Sam and Emmanuel, who explained the advisory role played by them and their peers in a landmark study of mental health among young persons with disabilities. Rosemary highlighted how participation and research go hand in hand; and the group described how quality research can empower young people and their advocates, particularly when their voices have not previously been heard.

The remaining thirteen stories were displayed in a large showcase, featuring ground-breaking findings both from primary research and systematic reviews, and representations of the innovative young person-centred methodologies developed within the ICCR. These were displayed alongside art work submitted to a recent ICCR art competition for children and young people.  Awards from this competition were presented by Patrick Sanders to the young artists, who came with their parents and teachers.

Finally, the event drew a close with the “cutting of the birthday cake” by founding Director, Dorota Iwaniec and current director, Geraldine Macdonald. Asked her wish for the future, Iwaniec replied “18 more years of success and growth!”

You can find more pictures of the event in our Facebook page

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Alcohol Research UK Report by ICCR Researchers

Alcohol Research UK have published a new study on parental monitoring, school level effects and adolescent drinking carried out by the BYDS research team at ICCR (Higgins, McCann, McLaughlin, McCartan & Perra). Using longitudinal data from the Belfast Youth Development findings from the study suggest children whose parents exert greater control over their free time activities drink less frequently.

Download the full report here

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New book authored by ICCR researchers is released

The Care Pathways and Outcomes Study book has been now published by BAAF. The book, entitled Comparing long-term placements for young children in care - The Care Pathways and Outcomes Study - Northern Ireland, presents the findings of the latest phase of this longitudinal study, which began in 2000. It is authored by Dominic McSherry, Montserrat Fargas Malet, and Kerrylee Weatherall.

The study, funded by the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, has followed the progress of a population of children, initially aged 5 years and under, in the Looked After system. It compares outcomes across a range of coping indicators between various placement paths. This book will provide useful information for social work and legal practitioners in terms of long-term planning for Looked After children.

The book will be launched on Wednesday 11th September 2013 at 1.00 pm, in the Canada Room, Queen's University Belfast. Edwin Poots, Minister for Health Social Services and Public Safety, will speak at the event.

More information about the book.

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Young Artists Required

The Institute of Child Care Research is hosting an art competition for 5-18 year olds resident in Northern Ireland. Gift vouchers for the value of up to £100 will be awarded to winning entries, and the art work will be displayed on the ICCR website.

Entries must address one of four research themes: children and families; health and wellbeing; children in public care and adopted; and teenagers.

To enter, children need to download an entry form here, and send their art work together with a completed form to: Lisa Monaghan, ICCR, Queen’s University Belfast, 6 College Park, Belfast, BT7 1LP.

The closing date for entries has been extended to 14th June, and winners will be notified by the end of June. Entries will be judged on creativity, artistic merit, and relevance to the theme.  

Read further details on the competition here.

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CDPLPG's review selected as May 2013 featured Cochrane review

The Cochrane Developmental, Psychosocial and Learning Problems Group, which is based in ICCR and headed up by Geraldine Macdonald, recently published a review called 'Scared Straight' and other juvenile awareness programmes for preventing juvenile delinquency'. The review has been chosen as this month's featured Cochrane review. The review found that not only do these programmes fail to deter youth crime but they in fact make it more likely.

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Professor Geraldine Macdonald, Director of the Institute of Child Care Research

International Award for Director

The Director of the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s has received an international award for work which has made an outstanding contribution to evidence-based practice.

Professor Geraldine Macdonald and colleagues were awarded the annual Leonard E Gibbs Award for the newly updated review Cognitive-Behavioural Interventions for Children Who Have Been Sexually Abused.

The review was carried out by Professor Macdonald in collaboration with Julian Higgins, Paul Ramchandani, Jeff Valentine, Latricia P Bronger, Paul Klein, Roland O'Daniel, Mark Pickering, Ben Rademaker, George Richardson and Matthew Taylor.

Professor Macdonald said: “We are delighted that the review has been recognised on the international stage. The aim of the review was to find out if cognitive-behavioural approaches (CBT) help reduce the negative impact of sexual abuse on children. The review, which contains data from 10 studies, confirms the potential of CBT to address the adverse consequences of child sexual abuse, but highlights the limitations of the evidence base and the need for more carefully conducted and better reported trials.”

This is the second time Professor Macdonald has received the award having been recognised in 2010 for the review, Treatment Foster Care for improving outcomes in children and young people, which she co-authored with William Turner.

Dr Leonard E Gibbs (1943 to 2008), Professor Emeritus of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, was an internationally recognised expert in the field of evidence-based practice. The Leonard E Gibbs Award honours the finest systematic review in social welfare published within the Campbell Collaboration, an international research network that produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions.

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Invited speaker to the Royal Statistical Society

ICCR Research Fellow Helen McAneney was invited speaker to the Royal Statistical Society, Funding for Career Young Statisticians, on the 10th May. Helen is also attending the International Social Network Analysis Conference in Hamburg (Sunbelt XXXIII), 21-26th May 2013, where she will be presenting a poster.

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(L –R) New staff members: Nina O’Neill, John Moriarty, Aisling Gough, Jennifer Hanratty, Siun Carden, Clare McGeady, Jennifer Robinson and Aideen Maguire

Celebrating grant success

The Institute of Child Care Research (ICCR) in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work has plenty to celebrate in 2013. As well as turning 18 this year, eight new researchers have joined the Institute following a number of recent grant successes.

Its Director, Professor Geraldine Macdonald, said: “The Institute now has over 30 members of staff and we are delighted to welcome another eight dynamic new researchers as we celebrate recent successes in obtaining further grants.”

Funding has been received from the ESRC to investigate bereavement and grief, including child death, using data from the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study, Northern Ireland Mortality Study, and the Electronic Prescribing Database. John Moriarty and Dr Aideen Maguire have been recruited to work on this study.

Dr Nina O'Neill has also joined the team to work on a recent OFMDFM award examining the health and wellbeing of looked after children.

Funding has also been released for the final phase of the large scale randomised trial of the Lifestart programme, a structured child-centred programme that provides age-appropriate information and practical activity for parents of children aged from birth to five years of age. Clare McGeady and Jenny Robinson have joined the team to work on this study.

The ICCR staff team has also been successful in securing funds to conduct systematic reviews which include one on measurement tools and outcomes in autism and another on psychosocial interventions for maltreated children and adolescents. Dr Jennifer Hanratty joins the team to deliver on those.

Dr Aisling Gough has been recruited to work on an exciting new parenting project funded by the Public Health Agency while Dr Siun Cardin joins the team on a project looking at mobile phone use among looked after children. 

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A presentation on the work of the ICCR as part of the Stormont Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series

Dr Laura Dunne presented a talk on the work of ICCR at the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series on 7th February 2013.

The presentation gave an overview of the main themes of our work and examples of key current pieces of work were also given.

If you would like to see the presentation, click here

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Lifestart Launch
Lifestart launch 1
Dr Laura Dunne (ICCR) and Dr Sarah Miller (Centre for Effective Education) attended the Lifestart Foundation's seminar and rebranding event, which took place in the Long Gallery in Stormont, on the 11th December 2012. Laura spoke at the event about the Lifestart Study, a five year RCT evaluation of the Lifestart Programme across the island of Ireland. The event was jointly hosted by Jennifer McCann MLA and Maeve McLaughlin MLA. Dr Crispin Day, King's College London also spoke about the role of parental engagement in successful interventions.

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Upcoming BYDS conference

The Belfast Youth Development Survey (BYDS) conference will be held on 29th November 2012 in the Canada Room at Queen's University Belfast. The keynote speaker will be Professor Sir Michael Rutter. The team will be presenting the latest findings from the study within a policy context. Anyone interested in registering can do so via e-mailing

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Parenting Ur Teen Launch
The ‘Parenting Ur Teen’ report will be launched at an event held by Parenting Northern Ireland at the Europa Hotel on 13th September 2013. The event will showcase the ‘Parenting Ur Teen’ programme and findings from the RCT evaluation will be presented by ICCR staff (Prof Macdonald, Dr Higgins, Mrs O’ Hara, Dr K McLaughlin & Dr McCann). Dr John Coleman and Professor Charlie Lewis will also speak at the event.

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Doctorate in Childhood Studies
Dr Dominic McSherry recently convened a module on 'Pathways and Outcomes for Children in Care' for the Doctorate in Childhood Studies, which is based in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work. This module runs biennally on the programme, and has also involved inputs from two colleagues in the ICCR: Dr Montse Fargas Malet on birth family contact in foster care, and Dr Catherine Adams on the health of looked after children and young people.

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HSC R&D Cochrane Fellowships
HSC R&D Cochrane Fellowships have been awarded to Mrs Leeanne O’ Hara, Ms Claire McCartan and Dr Aisling McLaughlin to prepare systematic reviews on the effects of health and social interventions on outcomes for children and young people. Mrs O’ Hara’s review will investigate ‘video interaction guidance for improving parental sensitivity,’ Ms McCartan will review ‘early education interventions for improving school-readiness, while Dr McLaughlin’s review will focus on ‘psychosocial interventions for children of parents with substance use problems.’

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ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative
Dr Mark McCann has received funding from the ESRC to investigate bereavement and grief using data from the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study, Northern Ireland Mortality Study, and the Electronic Prescribing Database. The project will aim to uncover the personal, family, and social characteristics associated with poor mental health after the death of a close relative and will investigate how circumstances of bereavement (e.g. suicide) affect the grieving process. Contact NI, Cruse Bereavement care, and the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland are involved with the study, and the findings will be used to help them support people following bereavement.

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Lifestart Study
The third and final phase of the Lifestart five-year evaluation has been launched. The Lifestart programme is a structured child-centred programme that provides age-appropriate information and practical activity for parents of children aged from birth to five years of age. This longitudinal study aims to evaluate the process and outcomes of the Lifestart programme in Ireland using a mixed-methods approach in order to provide a methodologically rigorous evaluation which is ‘gold-standard’.

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ICCR staff (Prof Macdonald, Dr Millen & Dr McCann) have contributed to the publication of a report by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) on the ‘Evaluation of therapeutic approaches to social work in residential child care settings’  The report focused on the five therapeutic approaches developed in response to the recommendations of the Regional Review – social pedagogy, CARE, Sanctuary, MAP and ARC. The evaluation aimed to provide: a description of each approach and the reason for selecting it; details of how each approach works in practice and the resources needed to make it happen; views of different stakeholders (including managers, practitioners, and children and young people) on how the approach works in practice and its effect on them; early indications of whether the approaches are effective and why early indications of whether any approaches are likely to be ineffective and why; evidence of organisational/contextual factors that help the approach or get in the way of its successful implementation and evidence of what is needed to continue the approach. A summary of report findings can be accessed below:
At a glance 58: Therapeutic approaches to social work in residential child care settings

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Bamford Implementation Call
Dr Aisling McLaughlin has received funding under the HSC R&D ‘Bamford Implementation Call.’ The study aims to investigate family, peer and school processes in the development of resilience among young people within the context of parental alcohol use. The study will utilise data from the ‘Belfast Youth Development Study,’ and data collected from parents and siblings of BYDS cohort members as part of the ‘Family Survey.’ These datasets provide a valuable opportunity to investigate the health, social and educational outcomes for young people during adolescence and emerging adulthood. The findings will inform interventions to promote resilience among youth exposed to parental alcohol misuse/abuse. The research team includes Dr Andy Percy, Dr Kathryn Higgins, Dr Oliver Perra, Dr Mark McCann & Ms Claire McCartan.

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Infant Behaviour and Development
A paper co-authored by Dr Oliver Perra on “Attention Engagement in Early Infancy” has been accepted for publication in ‘Infant Behaviour and Development.’

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Latent Variable Modelling Training
Dr Oliver Perra will be delivering a workshop on “Latent Transition Analysis” at the University of Ulster, Magee Campus this week. The workshop will utilise social science datasets that have been archived in Northern Ireland. The project is supported by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) through the Research Development Initiative (RDI).

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Alcohol Research UK
A report outlining the findings from a pilot study by Amelia Seifert, Dr Mark McCann, Claire Mc Cartan & Dr Aisling McLaughlin is now available from the Alcohol Research UK website. The study investigated community gardening as a form of rehabilitation for people with alcohol misuse problems in Northern Ireland.

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Doctorate in Childhood Studies
Dr Oliver Perra will deliver a module on “Current Issues in Developmental Psychology” to students registered on the DChild programme, based in the School of Sociology, Social Policy & Social Work.

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Developmental Psychology
Dr Oliver Perra has co-authored a paper in ‘Developmental Psychology,’ (in press) which uses longitudinal analyses to investigate estimation accuracy, counting skills and mathematical ability across the first school year.,5

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Communicative Skills of Adolescents
Dr Katrina McLaughlin has co-authored a paper published in the ‘Journal of Advanced Nursing.’ 
Porter, S., Holmes, V., McLaughlin, K., Lynn, F., Cardwell, C., Braiden, H. J., Doran, J. & Rogan, S (2012). A Randomised Controlled Trial Measuring the Effects of Music Therapy on the Communicative Skills of Children and Adolescents with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. Journal of Advanced Nursing, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2011.05936.

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Funding for BYDS Team
Dr Kathy Higgins, Dr Oliver Perra, Dr Mark McCann, Ms Claire McCartan & Dr Aisling McLaughlin have been awarded funding by the Office of the First Minister & Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). This three year study will investigate offending behaviour among young people in Northern Ireland within the context of neighbourhoods, family, school and peer processes.

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Alcohol Research UK
The BYDS team have also been granted an award by Alcohol Research UK to investigate alcohol use trajectories in the context of parental monitoring and the school environment utilising data collected as part of the Belfast Youth Development Study.

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OFMDFM funding for a study profiling the health of LACYP
An award by OFMDFM has been granted for a two and a half year study to profile the physical and mental health of looked after children in Northern Ireland and use this to explore how the care system is meeting their needs. The proposal was jointly written by Dr Dominic McSherry, Dr Montserrat Fargas, and Ms Kerrylee Weatherall. The current research team includes Dr Dominic McSherry, Dr Catherine Adams, Dr Katrina McLaughlin and Dr Nina O'Neill.

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Public Health Agency funding for a new study
Dr Dominic McSherry, Dr Montse Fargas, and Dr Oliver Perra have been awarded funding by the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland for a two year study. The ‘Accident or Design’ study will look at regional variations in long-term placements for children in care across Northern Ireland. The research team includes Dr Dominic McSherry and Dr Montse Fargas.

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Dr Kathryn Higgins co-hosts International workshop on Evidence Informed Practice

Dr Kathryn Higgins from the Institute of Child Care Research (ICCR: QUB Belfast) and Dr John Canavan from the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre (CFRC: NUI Galway) co-hosted an International Invited workshop in Cavan entitled: Evidence Informed Practice, Innovations and Creativity in Challenging Times.The event which ran from the 22nd to the 25th of April 2012 continued the work begun three years ago in Dartington and in 2010 in Ontario.

Thirteen teams from nine countries from around the world used this unique opportunity to discuss a range of cutting edge strategies for helping bring research evidence into the policy and practice communities. The opportunity was taken to exchange information about a range of approaches being used to promote evidence informed practice in services for children and families; to explored mechanisms which might be transferable across national and international contexts; to identify strategies for implementing evidence informed practice within practice organisations and analysed opportunities for future collaboration.

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ARK Young researcher, Jonny Murphy, invited to present at an international qualitative methods conference in Goethe-University, Frankfurt 4-5 May 2012.

As part of ARK/Young Life and Times ‘Attitudes to Difference’ project in partnership with the National Children’s Bureau, Jonny was part of a team of 16-year old young researchers exploring attitudes towards ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland. Jonny’s experience of this lead to co-authoring a journal article with Dr Dirk Schubotz (ARK) and Claire McCartan (ICCR) and it was on the strength of this publication that he was invited to present a workshop on ‘Conducting Better Research – A Young Researcher’s Perspective on the Process of Participatory Peer Research’ at the international ‘Interpretation Claims in Qualitative Research: Positions, Strategies and Perspectives in (self) Critical Knowledge Production’ conference. Jonny, now a first year Economics student, really enjoyed the experience, “It seemed to go very well, everyone had a lot of questions about my experience etc, so the presentation appears to have been a hit!”.

The journal article can be accessed here: McCartan, C., Schubotz, D. & Murphy, J. (2012). The self-conscious researcher – post-modern perspectives of participatory research with young people. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 13(1)

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Queen's Researcher Mark McCann highlights Gender differences in care home admission risk
Dr Mark McCann of the Institute of Child Care Research has had an article published in the Journal Age & Ageing. The article, Gender differences in care home admission risk: Partner's age explains the higher risk for women, has attracted media interest, with Dr. McCann appearing on U105 radio and online news reports.

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ICCR hosts seminar on 'Evaluation in Education'

The Institute of Child Care Research, QUB and Barnardo’s Northern Ireland hosted a seminar on ‘Evaluation in Education’ with Professor Timothy Shanahan at Queen’s on 29th March 2012.

Tim is Professor of Urban Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he is Director of the Center for Literacy. Previously he was Director of Reading for the Chicago Public Schools and is past President of the International Reading Association. Prof Shanahan is an internationally recognized reading researcher, for more information visit Tim’s website.

The seminar also highlighted two examples of local literacy interventions – Ready to Learn (Barnardo’s Northern Ireland) and Wizard of Words (Barnardo’s Ireland, Dublin and Limerick). Pictured are: Julie Healy (Barnardo’s NI), Paul Murray (Atlantic Philanthropies) Professor Geraldine Macdonald (ICCR), Professor Timothy Shanahan and (Lynda Wilson (Barnardo’s NI).

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ICCR to present at 72nd Alcohol Problems Research Symposium
Dr. Mark McCann is giving a presentation at the 72nd Alcohol Problems Research Symposium in Kendal, England on the 14th & 15th March. The presentation "The Belfast Youth Development Study: Unravelling the Beginnings of Alcohol Careers" will give an overview of the BYDS, present findings from the 'Affluence and the Alcohol Paradox' project, and discuss preliminary results from the 'Parental Monitoring and Alcohol Misuse' project, both of which were funded by Alcohol Research UK.

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Child Cruelty in the UK 2011’ an NSPCC study into childhood abuse and neglect
The NSPCC is today launching their new overview report ‘Child Cruelty in the UK 2011’ an NSPCC study into childhood abuse and neglect over the past 30 years. The NSPCC surveyed 2,275 children aged 11-17, and 1,761 adults aged 18-24 last year.The main aim of the study was to provide the NSPCC with an accurate estimate of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect, along with bullying and witnessing domestic violence in the UK. The study built on knowledge gained from an earlier survey undertaken by the NSPCC in 1998-99. By comparing the responses of today’s 18-24 year olds, we can see how child abuse and neglect has changed over the last 30 years, from when the respondents in the first study were born. And by looking at the experiences of 11-17 year olds, it gives us a fuller picture of what’s happening to children today. The findings that a quarter of 18 to 24 year olds had experienced "severe physical violence, sexual abuse or neglect in childhood" were based on interviews with 1,761 young people, carried out in 2009. When this total is broken down, the report shows that 12% had experienced a physical attack by an adult and 11% had experienced a sexual attack either from an adult or another young person.

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CCRF host a second successful conference in the ‘Made in Northern Ireland ‘series
Left to right:
Professor Sandra Nutley (University of Edinburgh)
Junior Minister Gerry Kelly MLA (Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister)
Dr Kathryn Higgins (Assistant Director of the ICCR and Chair of the CCRF)
Pauline Donnan, (Equality Directorate Research Branch, OFMDFM)
Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan

On Wednesday 23rd November 2010, the Child Care Research Forum (CCRF) hosted a second successful conference in the ‘Made in Northern Ireland ‘series. The day, which took place at the Hilton Templepatrick, was hosted by Dr Kathryn Higgins, Assistant Director of the Institute of Child Care Research and Chair of the CCRF. The Conference was based on the six high level outcome areas of the Ten Year Strategy for Children and Young people and was supported by OFMDFM, NSPCC, HSC R&D and QUB.

The conference was officially opened by Junior Minister Gerry Kelly MLA of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and joint chair of the Ministerial Subcommittee on Children and Young People. Junior Minister Kelly iterated the importance for policy makers, practitioners and researchers of working together to deliver on the 10 year Strategy for children and young people, stating: 'Our department leads the way on issues affecting young lives. The evidence of that can be seen in policies such as UNCRC, Children and Young People’s Strategy and the associated cross-cutting action plan. It is vital that the link between research data and actions flowing from these critical areas of work are supportive of one another and informs the decisions which we as Ministers and the Executive reach'.

The second keynote speaker, Professor Sandra Nutley (University of Edinburgh), delivered a thought provoking discourse on the challenges to utilising best evidence to shape practice development and service delivery.  She explored with the audience, some of fundamental but frequently asked questions in relation to research and practice: What counts as good evidence? What does evidence informed practice look like? What are the main challenges? And what do we know about what works to increase research use in practice settings? Professor Nutley reflected on the features of effective practice for the devolved administrations. 

In the first on the day’s exhibition slots, Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan challenged the audience to re-evaluate how they understood violence and violence reduction. He suggested that, rather than being simply a matter for the police and courts, violence should be understood and treated as a public health problem. To illustrate his discussion, John told the poignant story of one young man’s life of neglect, deprivation and violence and how it inevitably led to him committing murder. He vividly spelt out the problems facing many young people living in deprived communities and graphically portrayed the life of violence that many experienced. He juxtaposed this young man’s life with the services that are available and clearly argued that the opportunity was largely missed to bring in interventions at a young age when they would be most effective and provide better outcomes for young people. John finished by praising the work that has been done, whilst highlighting the challenges for leadership, to look to outcomes rather than processes, for disciplines to work together for common goals and to work for prevention, rather than damage limitation.

The conference then broke into three parallel sessions, and seminars were held under the first three of the six high level outcomes: ‘Health’, ‘Enjoying Learning and Achieving’ and ‘Living in Safety and with Stability'. Following a convivial lunch break, delegates met once again in seminar sessions to hear presentations on the second three high level outcomes: ‘Economic and Environmental Wellbeing’, ‘Contributing to Community and Society’ and ‘Living in a Society which respects their Rights’.

In the afternoon, the second exhibition slot was an informative demonstration of the recently launched North South Child Protection Hub (, an online child protection resource, which was developed under the auspices of the North South Ministerial Council. The Hub brings together research, policy and practice guidance, inspection reports, serious case reviews, court judgements, news articles and other material relevant to child protection published in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland together with material from Great Britain and Europe. The Hub was developed by the NSMC Child Protection Research and Knowledge Transfer sub-group in conjunction with Childlink Ltd, a private company based in West Belfast, and access to the Hub is available to fee paying members of Childlink Ltd. To find out details of membership costs contact the NSCPH at:  +44(0)2890 243022 or

The day finished with an inspiring presentation by a team of young researchers from the Children and Young People as Researchers Network (CYPAR), who highlighted some of the benefits that children and young people can bring to research, practice and policy development, as well as the personal and learning benefits for them as individuals. Bilal, Rachel and Lisa talked about their young person led study on body image. They were followed by Jason, a young person from VOYPIC (Voice of Young People in Care), who talked about his role as a peer reviewer on the RQIA inspections of care homes.  Young people were there to demonstrate their learning and the benefits to young people of being involved as researchers.  The session was closed by Sarah from VOYPIC who outlined a few other projects involving young researchers, benefits to the research of having young people involved and then how to join the Network. The session closed with a brief introduction to the Children and Young People as Researchers Network web pages, available at:, which has been developed by NCB, PlayBoard, NSPCC, Youth Action, VOYPIC and ARK. 

The closing remarks were delivered by Colin Reid, the NSPCC Policy and Public Affairs Manager (NI), who thanked the delegates and stressed the importance of the made in belfast conference event in updating pracitioners and policy makers about key research developments in Northern Ireland. He spoke of the book of abstracts as an invaluable resource, particularly in our current economic climate, in which evidence based practice and policy has never been more important or necessary to ensuring scarce resources reach the most vulnerable. Judging by the tone of the constructive and encouraging feedback, the CCRF Conference Committee are glad that so many people found the day worth while and we look forward to meeting with many of you at our quarterly CCRF meetings (details of which can be found at ). Thank You!

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NI Premier of Three Way Street

The Institute of Child Care Research would like to invite colleagues to the Northern Ireland premiere of: Three Way Street, a film about communicating with children and young people. 

The film will be shown on Wednesday the 27th of October 2010 from 5pm until 6.30pm in Room 0G/026 in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, 6 College Park, Belfast, BT7 1LP.


Three Way Street is a unique training film for professionals designed to develop confidence and competence in communicating with children and young people. The film, made with the active involvement of children and young people is aimed at doctors, social workers, teachers, police officers, lawyers, nursers and other health and social care professionals, and gives practical, evidence-based strategies to put children at the centre of three way communication. You can find out more and see clips of the film at:

This event is free and places are limited, so please RSVP to Aideen Gildea (Research Health Visitor) as soon as possible.

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Aideen Gildea presents at the Changing Ageing Showcase

Aideen Gildea (ICCR) presented findings from her work with Dr Anne Lazenbatt (NSPCC/ICCR) and Dr John Devaney (School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work), on: " Older Women's lifelong experience of Domestic Abuse" at the Changing Ageing Partnership Showcase Event at the Great Hall, Queen's University Belfast on 27th September 2010.

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QUB Staff receive Triangle training
Staff at Triangle Training facilitated by Trudy Ward (centre front)

The ICCR in association with the Research Forum for the Child secured funding from STDU to host a training event on 6th and 7th September 2010 entitled “Communicating and consulting with disabled children and young people” in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work. This was a very successful event attended by colleagues from a range of schools including Nursing, Law and Psychology. This training was provided by Triangle, Brighton and was led by Trudy Ward, a Consultant Nurse and expert in communication with disabled young people.

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The ICCR: 15 years of research excellence

This year marks a milestone in the continued success of the Institute as staff celebrate 15 years of continued research practice. To mark this occasion, the ICCR have combined the annual report with an overview of the last 15 years to produce a combined booklet, “The Institute of Child Care Research: 15 years of Research Excellence 2010”. Assistant Director, Dr Kathy Higgins explains, “In this brochure we reflect upon the qualities, which we feel, have helped us improve and expand upon our world class research portfolio. We demonstrate how our position, embedded within the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast, has enabled us to expand our innovative research and effective knowledge transfer methodologies and we take time to introduce to our readers our current projects and future aspirations. We hope that they find this document as interesting and inspiring as we did in producing it. We look forward to continuing to work with our many research partners to produce effective outcomes for children and a further 15 years of research excellence”.

Copies of the report are free to download from the ICCR website or hard copies can be obtained by contacting: Ms Lisa Monaghan on 029 9097 5922 or email:

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Colleagues mourn the passing of Dr Patrick McCrystal
Dr Patrick McCrystal who passed away suddenly on Saturday 10th April 2010
The staff of the Institute of Child Care Research, Queen’s University Belfast, deeply regret the sudden death of their esteemed colleague and friend, Dr Patrick McCrystal. We extend our sympathies to his mother Patricia, sisters Catherine and Charmaine and brother John as well as to the extended McCrystal family. Patrick will be sadly missed.

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Teenage drug use discussed at Queen’s

The issue of drug use will be the focus of two important events at Queen’s University next week.

On Monday 21 September, school teachers, health educationalists and drug prevention professionals will hear findings from the Youth Development Survey. They study questioned 4,000 teenagers in 43 schools in Northern Ireland about drug use. It found that by the age of 12 years, eight per cent of those questioned had used cannabis. This rose to 43 per cent by the age of 16, and 45 per cent by the age of 18.

Later in the week (Thursday 24-Saturday 26 September) researchers from across Europe will meet at Queen’s to discuss the latest developments in drugs-related issues at the 20th Annual Conference of the European Society for Social Drug Research.

The Youth Development Survey is one of the largest schools-based surveys of its kind in the UK or Ireland. It is conducted by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work and is funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland.

Dr Patrick McCrystal, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Child Care Research, said: “Monday’s event will bring together educationalists and health professionals to discuss the onset and development of problem drug use among teenagers.

“A number of young people who took part in the Youth Development Survey appear to have developed a drug-using lifestyle by the age of 16 years.

“While the survey looks at the use of a number of drugs, the findings relating to cannabis are particularly interesting as cannabis is often considered the ‘gateway’ drug to more serious substance abuse. In nearly all cases, cannabis is the first illegal drug used by young people – and almost all of those who reported using cocaine or ecstacy also used cannabis. Levels of cannabis use by these young people is higher than among teenagers of the same age in the UK, Ireland and Europe.

“The cannabis users who took part in the study were more likely to be male, have weaker family bonds, and be less committed to school than those who did not use the drug. They were also more likely to have smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol to intoxication before the age of 16.

“Of the young people who had tried cannabis, around one in ten went on to use it on a weekly basis by the age of 16. The most common age for first trying cannabis is 15, and most of those who admitted using the drug obtained it from friends.

“These findings highlight the need to educate young people about the risks of experimenting with drugs. This event is an opportunity for the people who work with these teenagers in schools, health care and drugs prevention organisations, to consider the research findings and their implications for drugs education and prevention initiatives for young people in Northern Ireland.”

The 20th Annual Conference of the European Society for Social Drug Research will explore drugs policy, trends and patterns in drug use, drug using lifestyles, the availability of drugs and the structure of drug dealing networks.

The Youth Development Survey involved young people who attended schools in Belfast, Ballymena and Downpatrick. For more information on the Survey visit

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Queen’s and Lifestart offer free support to parents
Dr Helga Sneddon from Queen's, pictured here with her son Tom, is asking parents with a baby under the age of one year to take part in the Lifestart Study.
Dr Helga Sneddon from Queen's, pictured here with her son Tom, is asking parents with a baby under the age of one year to take part in the Lifestart Study.

Time is running out for parents to access the free advice and support on offer in a study being conducted by Queen’s University Belfast on behalf of the Lifestart Foundation.

Researchers are looking for parents with babies under 12 months to take part in one of the largest studies of families and parenting ever undertaken on the island of Ireland. 

The aim of the Lifestart Study is to evaluate the Lifestart Home Based Parenting Programme.  Those who participate will receive free feedback on their child’s development. Over 300 families have already signed up for the study. The researchers are particularly calling on parents in Derry, Dungiven, Enniskillen, Strabane, Limavady, Lifford, Letterkenny, Newtowncunningham, Inishowen, Donegal Town, Ballymunn (Dublin), Sligo, Offaly and Kildare to take part.

The study is being carried out jointly by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s and the University’s Centre for Effective Education. Dr Helga Sneddon from the Institute of Child Care Research said: "The Lifestart programme aims to support families, with children aged from birth to five, through the ups and downs of parenting by helping them learn and understand more about their child’s development on a month by month basis.

“Of the 500 families we are seeking to take part in this research, 250 of them will be entered into the Lifestart programme. This will allow us to find out more about their experiences of parenting compared to those who are not involved in the Lifestart programme.

“The Lifestart Study will evaluate how well the Lifestart Home Based Parenting Programme works for parents and children.  Rather than making assumptions about what we think parents need, we are giving them the opportunity to share directly with us their experiences and the type of support they find useful in their role as parents.

“Those families who volunteer to take part in The Lifestart Study will be visited by us in their homes during their child’s first year, again when the child is two, and finally when the child is five years old. Throughout this time, we will talk with mums and dads about their parenting experiences and be able to provide some useful free feedback to them on their child’s development.

“Participating in the study will help us improve early years parenting support and identify gaps in the services available to parents throughout Ireland.  Anyone who is interested in taking part should contact us for more information before the end of June. From Northern Ireland freephone 0800 0855031 or text 07870 509677, from the Republic of Ireland freephone 1800 818 688 or text 08583 48617; or email

Pauline McClenaghan, Executive Director of the Lifestart Foundation, said: "This evaluation is very important to Lifestart and to local parents. We believe that the Lifestart Programme is a very useful resource for parents in that it provides them with information and tools to support their child’s learning and development. We at Lifestart are delighted that our programme has been chosen for this study."

The Lifestart Study is funded by Lifestart with support from Atlantic Philanthropies.  Helga Sneddon is based at the Institute of Child Care Research within Queen’s and Sarah Miller is based in the Centre for Effective Education in the University’s School of Education.

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A Care Pathways and Outcomes Report has been launched tailored to professionals
An image of the front cover of the Pathways Practitioner's Report

The number of children being adopted from care in Northern Ireland has increased, according to the 'Care Pathways and Outcomes Study' by Queen’s University. However, Health Boards and Trusts vary dramatically in their decisions on long-term placements for children in care.  The study explores the placements of the 374 children who were under five years old and in care in Northern Ireland in March 2000. It is the first study in Northern Ireland to look at an entire population of young people in a variety of care environments over a long period of time. Researchers followed their progress through foster care, adoption or return to birth parents.

 ‘From Care to Where? A Care Pathways and Outcomes Report for Practitioners’ was launched on Wednesday 26th of November in the Child Care Research Forum Conference, where all delegates received a copy of the report. It is aimed at practitioners and academics, and it is the first of three reports to be published on the study and is available at  A report for parents, and another for children and young people, will be made available before the end of the year.

Dr Dominic McSherry from the Institute of Child Care Research said:  “Children in care deserve to be placed in an environment that meets their specific needs and supports them through what must be a difficult time in their childhood. This report should help inform the decisions of those who determine what care pathway is most appropriate for each child, and help ensure that every child in Northern Ireland receives the long-term placement that allows them to achieve their full potential."

Alicia Toal, Project Co-ordinator of Voice of Young People in Care, said: "It is vital that policy makers have access to good quality locally-based research into the needs of this vulnerable group of children. Given current restructuring within Health and Social Care, targets to reduce the numbers of children coming into care, and recent media coverage of failings within children’s services, this report contains a number of important findings that policy makers must now consider when making decisions about the long-term care of younger children."

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