Centre for Vulnerable Children and Families

Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families

Happy, safe and supported. The Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families delivers impactful research and practice for a safer world where all can flourish.

Find out more about the Centre for Vulnerable Children and Families

About us: our vision

The health, safety and wellbeing of children, young people and families can be threatened by a variety of challenges, including domestic abuse, bullying, disability, poverty and homelessness. The Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families is dedicated to supporting the positive development of those facing these and many other forms of adversity – both here in the UK and around the world.

Our interdisciplinary teams of researchers and practitioners work collaboratively and inclusively across all stages of the lifecourse, from supporting adults preparing for parenthood through to examining the long-term impacts of childhood experiences. Our engagement with children, young people and their families encompasses different settings too, including early education, schools and pupil referral units, as well as nursing and therapeutic contexts.

We aim to:

  • Deliver research and practice which ensures a safer world, in which all children, young people and families can flourish.
  • Support the development of new researchers and practitioners in this area, increasing the subject area expertise and knowledge base, and enabling us to answer the most pressing societal challenges affecting for families and young people.
  • Build our research and practice network through the development of meaningful and supportive partnerships with external organisations working with children, young people and families.
  • Ensure the findings from our research and knowledge exchange activities are published and accessible to all.

Our impact on the world

Everything we do at the Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families is focused on reducing all forms of harms experienced by children and young people. Whether its abuse and neglect, bullying and cyberbullying, or involvement in antisocial behaviour and gangs, our researchers and practitioners work to develop evidence-informed programmes that address the issue head-on, and lead to the best interventions possible.

The work carried out at the Centre contributes to many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Examples include:

  • Our research in Australia talking to adults about their maltreatment as children in order to understand how this may have led to poorer health in adulthood, which supports Good Health and Well-being (SDG3). This SDG is also supported by our trials of Functional Family Therapy, a mental health intervention for those in youth justice or children’s social care.
  • Our work on harassment of pupils by teachers, which supports Quality Education (SDG4), as do our investigations into gender stereotyping and barriers to girls’ and boys’ educational achievement - which also supports Gender Equality (SDG5).
  • Our evaluation of how the life chances of adults with negative experiences as children are disadvantaged compared to others, which supports Reduced Inequality (SDG10).
  • Our research on bullying and cyberbullying in order to reduce violence against children has impacted policy for vulnerable youth globally and is cited by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), supporting Peace and Justice Strong Institutions (SDG16).
  • Our engagement with community leaders, and a cohort of children and young people, across the Royal Borough of Greenwich in a longitudinal study of the community, which supports Partnerships to achieve the Goal (SDG17).

Who we are

An interdisciplinary approach

The Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families benefits from the expertise of a diverse range of researchers, practitioners and external partners. Members specialising in public health, midwifery and nursing work alongside psychologists, speech and language therapists, community and social workers, historians, educationalists and criminologists. All feel a moral responsibility to support children, young people and families, and all are committed to an inclusive, collaborative and holistic approach, conducting interdisciplinary research that has impact in the world.


We have forged close working relationships with numerous external partners encompassing a variety of disciplines. These collaborations are often a two-way street, researchers providing partners with evidence-based advice and information, and in return gaining valuable insights into key current issues faced by those directly working with children, young people and families. Our partners include the Charlton Athletic Community Trust, HealthWatch Greenwich, Greenwich Mencap and other national and community-based NGOs. We also work with local government and other public sector organisations, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Kent County Council, NHS trusts and the London Metropolitan Police Service. Among the many higher education institutions with which we work in the UK and worldwide are the University of Córdoba, the University of Johannesburg and the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hacettepe University. Our overseas collaborators include NGOs and charities working with families and young people in Spain, Chile, South Korea, Malaysia, Uganda, Turkey and South Africa.


The work of the Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families is supported by, among others, the UK Research and Innovation, Office for National Statistics, the Youth Endowment Fund, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and other charitable and public funding sources.

Our research

A child-centred approach to research

All members of the Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families have a strong interest in practice, seeking to learn directly from the experiences of children and young people. Mindful of any sensitivities and ethical concerns, we deploy a range of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, ensuring they are age-appropriate: what works for a two-year-old is clearly not suitable for someone in their early twenties. Finally, we are always careful to communicate our research findings in ways that are consumable by, and credible for, practitioners. For instance, we have produced Personal, social, health and economic (PHSE) materials in partnership with psychologists and education experts to maximise their palatability and practicality for teachers.

Our research falls broadly under the following themes:

  • Relationships and education
  • Family relationships: domestic abuse
  • Peer relationships
  • Online risks
  • Crime and antisocial behaviour

Relationships and education

This strand of research investigates how a sense of belonging to different social groups changes throughout childhood and adolescence, which allows us to identify the most effective intervention strategies for reducing antisocial behaviour in individuals at different ages and with varying educational and psychological needs. Researchers in the centre identify critical periods in children's development, when self-worth is at its lowest, disaffection from school at its highest and behaviour in the classroom reportedly at its most disruptive. Examples of recent research in this area includes a project in Spain working on dating-related violence in school, as well as bullying of students by their peers and harassment by teachers.

Family relationships: domestic abuse

The cyclical nature of child maltreatment, coupled with the multitude of different interrelating psycho-social risk factors, means that a large-scale, interdisciplinary approach to research is required. Our work in this area includes evaluating the benefits of ‘functional family therapy-gangs’ for young people at risk of child criminal exploitation, as well as other interventions designed to address the links between adolescents’ physical and mental health and their propensity to become involved in violence. This and other research is currently informing the UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team, supporting the establishment of the Ending Youth Violence Lab.

Peer relationships

This work focuses on children’s friendships, including developmental aspects of friendship, and bullying, dating violence and other forms of aggression in early childhood and adolescence. Researchers apply diverse approaches to the study of peer-relations among young people, employing advanced methods such as social network analysis to further our understanding of the aggressive and defending relations between children. Researchers model developmental trajectories and examine longitudinal relations. Our work on social adjustment and the role of group processes in young children’s bullying behaviour has shaped policy for vulnerable youth globally, and is cited by a number of NGOs, including the Stop Bullying Now Foundation in the Netherlands and Australia’s CREATE Foundation, a national organization that supports children in care.

Online risks

While online technology offers many benefits, its rapidly increasing use by younger children is exposing these users to heightened risks of cyberbullying, child exploitation and abuse. Increasing use of technology has been shown to negatively impact social skill development, ability to focus, sleep and both mental and physical health. We are passionate about keeping children and young people safe, healthy and well adjusted. Our researchers work with charities, such as NSPCC and Anti-bullying Alliance, teachers, practitioners and parents to investigate the impact, risk factors and evaluate interventions aimed at reducing such risks for children and young people.

Crime and antisocial behaviour

Reducing the risk of young people becoming involved in criminal and violent behaviour has positive social and economic impact for communities and society more widely. Researchers work closely with police, youth justice, educators, social care professionals and mental health practitioners to investigate risk factors for gang violence and County Line Drug Networks. Similarly, we assess risk and protective factors potentially impacting on developmental trends in antisocial behaviour among adolescents, a culturally constructed, yet global, phenomenon. This work, conducted in the UK, France, Brazil, China, Australia and South Africa, helps support families, schools and other organisations working with young people to improve the wellbeing and life outcomes for children and adolescents.


View all publications.

Teaching and training

The Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families offers training to educators on issues such as PSHE, and also invites children and young people to learn about conducting their own research projects. We work collaboratively with charities and local authorities to support evaluation of services, offering analysis consultancy and research training to upskill staff. Internally, we ensure that our researcher and practitioner expertise is joined up, ensuring postgraduate students benefit from insights into both strands. The Centre also emphasizes the need for students always to consider the broader context in their research, to ask: ‘What are the key issues that my research can address in the real world?’

News and events

As part of the ILD, the Centre organises various events, including specific activities for Anti-bullying week, which is held in partnership with the Royal Borough of Greenwich. These include book launches, daily webinars, in-person events and roundtable discussions aimed at teachers, children and young people.

We also host the Youth Wellbeing Hub, which builds on research conducted over the past fifteen years looking at children and adolescents’ behaviour and attitudes. Current and on-going research focuses on children’s attitudes towards debt, environmental behaviour and sustainability and cultural differences in understanding and provision for antisocial behaviour in schools. The Youth Wellbeing Hub’s work has included funded projects in London, Kent and South-East England as well as with partners in national and international organisations. Researchers have well-established links with local partners across the UK, Europe and worldwide (including France, Spain, Latin America, Australia, Africa and China). The Youth Wellbeing Hub is co-led by Professor Pam Maras and Dr Amy Moon.

Also hosted at the Centre is the Cluster for the Study of Play and Recreation, which has expertise in multi-disciplinary approaches to childhood, youth studies and education. The Cluster, headed by Dr Mary Claire Martin, links theory and fieldwork in all aspects of play and recreation, from infancy to old age, across cultures and nations.  For more details click here: https://www.gre.ac.uk/eduhea/research/cspr/home#research

To keep up-to-date of our forthcoming events please follow our blog.

We are passionate about this area of research and practice, and want to work together and with our external partners to make a real difference in the lives of children and young people.

- Claire Monks, Leader of the Centre for Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families

Centre leads

Our experts

ILD | Institute for Lifecourse Development

The ILD is a key anchor resource hosted by the Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences. Professionals from related fields will work closely together with researchers and stakeholders from public, charitable and voluntary organisations. Together they will develop effective and economically sustainable lifecourse solutions and tackle the grand challenge agendas society faces.