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Supporting Evaluation and Research in Child and Family Health (SEARCH)

We undertake research that makes a difference to children and families through the production of evidence which can be translated into changes in practice and policy.

The Supporting Evaluation and Research in Child and family Health (SEaRCH) group includes expertise from fields of health service delivery, health visiting/public health nursing, community development work, children’s nursing and psychology.

We have a specific interest in understanding ‘what works well’, to support the lives of children, parents, families and systems that can facilitate health and well-being.


In our research, we work closely with service users and the resulting partnerships are a critical feature of our work to ensure real-world relevance.

Other collaborators include health care professionals providing hospital and community-based services, social workers, the arts, animation studies, business and marketing fields.

Our team includes researchers who are experts in a wide range of methods, from evidence synthesis, experimental designs and surveys to ethnography and grounded theory approaches.

SEaRCH seeks to build research capacity to produce high-quality outputs in the subject areas of:

  • Early life supporting the health and wellbeing of infants and parents
  • Changing social worlds for children and young people and the impact of loneliness on their health and well-being
  • Violence, gender and health - the range (classification and measurement) of different forms of gender-based violence across the life course and healthcare service responses to limit harm and prevent future violence.
  • Care contexts and modes of workforce preparation and service delivery to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for children, young people and families.
  • Application of research methodologies that can accommodate the complexities of family life and service delivery.

The SEaRCH group is generating impact through:

Our publications include:

  • Academic research papers reporting empirical studies
  • narrative and theoretical reviews
  • evidence synthesis (meta-analysis and narrative synthesis)
  • professional commentaries and opinion pieces
  • reports for industry and government bodies
  • media articles (i.e. Huffington Post, The Independent Online)

Rebecca Nowland scoping review: Nowland, Rebecca, Thomson, Gill, McNally, Lara, Smith, Tim, Whittaker, Karen (2021). Perspectives in Public Health, Volume: 141, Issue: 4, pp: 214-225, Experiencing loneliness in parenthood: A scoping review

Cowley, Sarah, Whittaker, Karen ORCID: 0000-0002-3493-9396, Malone, Mary, Donetto, Sara, Grigulis, Astrida and Maben, Jill (2018) 1. University. Journal of Health Visiting, 6 (7). pp. 352-360. ISSN 2050-8719 What makes health visiting successful – or not?

Carter, Bernie, Whittaker, Karen ORCID: 0000-0002-3493-9396 and Sanders, Caroline (2018) . Journal of Child Health Care . ISSN 1367-4935Evaluating a telehealth intervention for urinalysis monitoring in children with neurogenic bladder

Malone, Mary, Whittaker, Karen ORCID: 0000-0002-3493-9396, Cowley, Sarah, Ezhova, Ivanka and Maben, Jill (2016) . Nurse Education Today, 44 . pp. 175-186. ISSN 0260-6917Health visitor education for today's Britain: Messages from a narrative review of the health visitor literature

Olive, Philippa ORCID: 0000-0002-9175-1285 (2018). Journal of Health Services Research and Policy . ISSN 1355-8196Intimate Partner Violence and clinical coding: issues with the use of the International Classification of Disease (ICD-10) in England

Olive, Philippa ORCID: 0000-0002-9175-1285 (2017) . Journal of Clinical Nursing . ISSN 0962-1067Classificatory multiplicity: intimate partner violence diagnosis in emergency department consultations

Walby, Sylvia, Towers, Jude, Balderston, Susie, Corradi, Consuelo, Francis, Brian, Heiskanen, Markku, Helweg-Larsen, Karin, Mergaert, Lut, Olive, Philippa ORCID: 0000-0002-9175-1285 et al (2017) . Policy Press, Bristol. ISBN 978-1447332633The Concept and Measurement of Violence against Women and Men

Nowland, Rebecca ORCID: 0000-0003-4326-2425, Talbot, Rebecca and Qualter, Pamela (2018) . Personality and Individual Differences, 131 . pp. 185-190. ISSN 0191-8869Influence of loneliness and rejection sensitivity on threat sensitivity in romantic relationships in young and middle-aged adults

Nowland, Rebecca ORCID: 0000-0003-4326-2425, Robinson, Sarita Jane ORCID: 0000-0002-4237-5412, Hornby, Belinda Fay ORCID: 0000-0002-3426-8924, Summers, Vicki and Qualter, Pamela (2018) Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology . ISSN 0036-5564Loneliness, HPA Stress Reactivity and Social Threat Sensitivity: Analyzing Naturalistic Social Challenges.

Steeg, Sarah, Quinlivan, Leah, Nowland, Rebecca ORCID: 0000-0003-4326-2425, Carroll, Robert, Casey, Deborah, Clements, Caroline, Cooper, Jayne, Davies, Linda, Knipe, Duleeka et al (2018) . BMC Psychiatry, 18 (113).Accuracy of risk scales for predicting repeat self-harm and suicide: a multicentre, population-level cohort study using routine clinical data

We do a range of teaching on undergraduate/post-graduate taught programmes and supervise post graduate research students in the School of Nursing.

Recently supervised students have completed research MPhil and PhD degrees relating to healthcare of children with long term conditions, parenting experiences and patient safety, using methodologies such as realist evaluation, narrative inquiry, phenomenology.

Current research students are studying areas including violence, gender and health; neuroscience of decision making; peer support and infant feeding.

Reader in Child and Family Health and SEaRCH group lead Dr Karen Whittaker

SEaRCH Senior Research Fellow Dr Philippa Olive

Philippa is a nurse academic (RGN, RSCN) and social scientist who developed an interest in violence, gender and health through her practice as an emergency nurse caring for victim-survivors of violence. Her principle research focus is violence across the life course, its impacts and costs for individuals and society and health-based responses to limit harm suffered and prevent future violence.

More broadly, Philippa’s research is concerned with social / intersectional determinants of health and wellbeing, health inequalities and improving health outcomes and experiences for children, young people and their families.

SEaRCH Research Fellow Dr Rebecca Nowland

Rebecca worked as Community Development Worker with Children and Families and a Childcare Educator before completing a Degree and PhD in Psychology at UCLan. Rebecca is a Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society as a Teacher and Researcher in Psychology. Her primary research interests centre on Child and Adolescent Mental Health, with a particular interest in the impact of loneliness on social information processing and physical and mental health.

Rebecca has published in several international academic journals, presented at a variety of national and international conferences, as well as acting as media consultant on loneliness to both press and broadcast institutions across the world.

The SEaRCH group is directly involved in supporting allied research networks including: the Clinical Academic Faculty at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; The North of England Health Visitor and Child Health Research Network ; the EY-Flourish research group. We collaborate with colleagues at other academic institutions including Emeritus Professor Dame Sarah Cowley, King’s College, London; Professor Pamela Qualter, Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester; Professor Lynn Kemp, University of Western Sydney; Professor Tracey Bywater, York University. @research_­hvch

NEST: Neonatal Early Supported Transfer home (NEST) is an innovation project to develop and implement an evidence-based early supported transfer home pathway for late pre-term babies. It aims to address the health inequalities associated with their longer hospital stays. This is an NIHR CLAHRC-NWC funded project working with Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. 

E-SEE: The Enhancing Social-Emotional Health and Wellbeing in the Years (E-SEE) trial led by Professor Tracey Bywater, University of York, is a collaborative randomised controlled trial involving several Universities, NHS and Social Care organisations. Dr Karen Whittaker, UCLan is an E-SEE study co-applicant leading on practitioner preparation in trial areas. 

The E-SEE study aims to test the effectiveness of a model of parenting support incorporating the Incredible Years (IY) infant and toddler parenting support programmes. The model enables support to be delivered according to need. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR PHR Programme, NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health. Further information available at: the project’s website 

This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme (project number 13/93/10)

FFI: (Fitting Fathers In). In July 2018 Karen Whittaker was granted a MacQueen award by the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (CPHVA) Education and Development Trust.

The MacQueen award enables Karen to develop a sub-study of the existing E-SEE (Enhancing Social and Emotional Health and Development in the Early Years) trial led by Professor Bywater at York University. ‘Fitting Fathers In’ (FFI) will provide an opportunity to learn about how fathers and/or co-parents can be supported in their parenting roles when they have a new baby or toddler.

The FFI project should extend knowledge about parenting support given that much of the existing research is focused on the needs and experiences of mothers.

EaCH: Evaluation of ChatHealth (EaCH) is text messaging service for young people to access health advice and school nurse services.

This realistic evaluation of ChatHealth collected and brought together multiple sources and types of data (qualitative service user, practitioner and stakeholder interviews, quantitative administrative message data, and text message transcripts) to produce an evaluation of ChatHealth in terms of what was or was not working for whom under which conditions. This project is funded by the General Nursing Council.

iDV4YP: The Impact of Domestic Violence for the Lives of Young People (iDV4YP) in Lancashire project is a collaboration between SEaRCH and Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust (LCFT) that involves secondary data analysis of Lancashire’s Year 9 School Health Needs Assessment (SHNA). The SHNA is a health and wellbeing survey of young people attending schools in Lancashire which has a principle aim to inform individual and population-wide health need assessment. The SHNA is short survey facilitated by school nurses that asks questions about young people’s lives and their participation is voluntary.

The aim of the iDV4YP project was to establish the extent of health and wellbeing risks for young people affected by domestic violence in their lives. We compared reported health and well-being in terms of mental health, physical health and vulnerability between young people who reported being affected by domestic violence in their lives and those that did not.

NWCIS: North West Child Internet Study (NWCIS) is led by Dr Rebecca Nowland in collaboration with Professor Pamela Qualter, University of Manchester. This research project examines the influence of loneliness and social anxiety on social media use in adolescents. The research involved adolescents in schools in the North West who completed a questionnaire about loneliness, social anxiety, motivations for using social media and their social media habits at two-time points.

The research was particularly novel because it involved a longitudinal design because much of the research in this area is cross-sectional. Part of the project has been to develop a new measure of Social Threat Sensitivity relating to Facebook (STS-Facebook), which measures how anxious adolescents are about other people’s behaviour towards them on Facebook (i.e. people rejecting their Facebook requests or blocking them, or making a negative comment, etc.). A total of 374 14-15-year olds completed the questionnaire.

EvAC: Evaluation of Accelerated Children Nursing education funded by Health Education England North West (HEE-NW). The project led by Diane Daune collaborated with SEaRCH team members to evaluate two programmes each taking different routes to prepare registered children’s nurses (one for registered Adult or Mental Health nurses and one for graduates wishing to enter the nursing profession).

Each educational programme intended to produce nurses able to plug the gaps between patient numbers and available children’s nurses more rapidly than conventional programmes. EvAC research methods involved group and individual interviews, interactive workshops and documentary analysis. Participants included students, lecturers and key stakeholders (included those overseeing the development and implementation of the programmes, ward managers, practice education facilitators, and mentors).

Other projects include:

  • Exploring mental health across life transitions for children and adolescents (i.e. school transfers)
  • Exploring associations between self-harming and suicidal behaviour and loneliness and social isolation in adolescents
  • Exploring changes in the social world of children and adolescents in modern society and physical and mental health impacts