22 - Social Work and Social Policy

Influencing UK policy and provision for disabled children and their families

Critical Disability Studies research helped changed UK government policy on the family finding process for 6,000 children awaiting adoption.

The research has influenced service provision for disabled children and their families and influences the approach of national disability charities such as Scope.

Underpinning Research

MMU has undertaken research in Critical Disability Studies since 2008.

The ESRC-funded “Does Every Child Matter, post Blair?” repositioned understandings of childhood and disability exploring the experiences of children in health, education, social care and leisure.

Findings demonstrated that joined-up provision is required for children with special educational needs and their families; that disabled children experience discrimination, violence and educational exclusion; that families of disabled children value short breaks but find it hard to access them; and that disabled children who participate in community arts develop positive identities.

Further Scope-funded research, examined resilience by drawing on the stories of 42 disabled people aged 5 to 83.

Findings showed that resilience is not a personal characteristic, but is made in relationships with others and that resilience can be developed through recognizing the interdependent nature of people’s lives.

Other research examined adoption activity days when children and their social workers meet prospective parents over organised “fun” activities.

The research found that adoption activity days are a successful means of family finding, particularly for children labelled ‘hard to place’ and that there was no evidence that parents and children matched up in this way are more likely to experience breakdown.


  • Runswick-Cole, K. (2011) Time to end the bias towards inclusive education? British Journal of Special Education, 38 (3): 112-120.DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8578.2011.00514.x
  • 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


The research has led to changes in government adoption policy and had a positive impact on services for disabled children and their families.

In 2012, the Department for Education (DfE) announced that adoption activity days would be rolled out across England and Wales. By June 2013, 29 children had been placed through this life-changing method.

The DfE also used MMU research as part of an online training package.

MMU’s research helped the Oily Cart Theatre Company to secure a Children In Need grant of over £53,000 to enable them to deliver further multi-sensory theatre work to 800 disabled children.

The evaluation also helped secure funding from other charities and the Arts Council.

The College of Social Work, quoted MMU findings on disabled children and identity in its 2013 Curriculum Guide: Disability, which provides guidance on the content of social work degree programmes.

Runswick-Cole addressed the first Office for Disability Issues Evidence Gathering Day in 2011, attended by a range of government departments.

Runswick-Cole’s work was also used by the Leeds Educational Psychology Team, as part of their work supporting the professional development of practitioners.

The team has published findings in magazines including Nursery World; SEN magazine and Community Care magazine.

Runswick-Cole wrote a regular column on inclusion for Nursery World, with 103,000 online subscribers.

Runswick-Cole jointly authored an article for Learning Disability Today magazine with a 15-year-old who had been involved in MMU’s research.