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Lauren Harding is from Oxfordshire and first came to Oxford Brookes in 2014. She became a research student in March 2016 and her thesis title is ‘How do school nurses identify and work with school-aged children (5-19 years) at risk of abuse and neglect?’
I first came to Oxford Brookes in 2014 to undertake a postgraduate diploma in Specialist Community Public Health Nursing (school nursing). I was really impressed with the facilities, as the new John Henry Brookes Building at Gipsy Lane had recently opened. At the end of this course, the course lead emailed some information about PhD studentship opportunities in safeguarding children, with Professor Jane Appleton, and I decided to apply.
I already knew that Oxford Brookes had modern facilities and a supportive environment for study and research. My passion is safeguarding children, and Oxford Brookes has a reputation for high quality research in this field. It also has the Children and Families Research Group and the new Oxford Institute of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Research (OxINMAHR), which sounded like ideal platforms for inter-departmental learning.
My background is paediatric nursing and I trained at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. I worked in the community as a staff nurse for 2 years, in health visiting and school health, before training as a school nurse. I am on the clinical academic PhD programme, so I still work 1 day a week in clinical practice and complete my PhD over 4 years.
The support offered to research students at Oxford Brookes is really very good. There are regular support groups offered through OxINMAHR for students whose research comes under this umbrella, and a wider research training programme that runs throughout the year. There are also regular research seminars with the Children and Families Research Group, with a varied and interesting programme of speakers. My PhD supervisors Professor Jane Appleton and Dr. Jan Davison-Fischer are very supportive and approachable, and of course the support of my fellow PhD students has been invaluable.
The aim of my research project is to understand how school nurses identify and work with school-aged children at risk of child abuse and neglect in England. School nurses are nurses specially trained in public health, who work with primary and secondary schools to look after the health needs of school pupils. This can include mental and emotional health support, health promotion and sexual health. In more recent years, the role of the school nurse in safeguarding children from child abuse has increased and the literature suggests that school nurses may be taking on a role that historically was more the remit of a social worker. At the same time, child abuse and neglect remains prevalent in society and the NSPCC (2013) suggests that for every known victim of child abuse in the UK, there are 8 unknown victims. There is little research about the work of school nurses with these vulnerable children, or the skills, knowledge and tools they use to identify risk factors of child abuse and neglect.
An exploratory, mixed-methods approach will be used, combining information from the electronic ‘diaries’ that school nurses keep on a day-to-day basis, as well as in-depth interviews with school nurses about their experiences. The methods for qualitative data analysis will be rooted in Grounded Theory (Birks and Mills, 2015), to develop a theoretical model of school nurses identification and working modes with children at risk of child abuse and neglect.
I enjoy the variety that comes with being a research student, and the opportunity to learn from others about fields other than my own. I feel privileged to be able to dedicate time to study in-depth an area that I am interested in and I hope will be valuable to both practitioners and vulnerable children. A PhD is hard work, but staying connected to people around you and accessing support is really helpful.
The research training at Oxford Brookes has been high quality and there are plenty of opportunities to access the training throughout the year. I have accessed a number of training workshops so far and evaluated them highly.
After my PhD I would like to continue in a clinical academic role, in the field of safeguarding children and young people. I would like contribute to the development of nursing practice in the protection of children and young people from harm.