Dr. Karen Whittaker

Reader in Child and Family Health

School of Nursing

Brook Building, BB325

+44 (0) 1772 89 3786


Subject Areas: Health, Nursing and Midwifery, Public Health, Social Care

Dr Karen Whittaker leads the Child and Family Health research theme group referred to as SEaRCH,  (Supporting Evaluation and Research in Child and family Health) within the School of Nursing. Her research is within the field of parenting, family support, health visiting and child health using realist evaluation methods. Her post-doctoral work was with The National Nursing Research Unit, Kings College London. Karen works internationally with UNICEF-CEE/CIS and International Step by Step Association (ISSA) supporting knowledge exchange and translation for nurse home visitors promoting early child development.


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Full Profile

Karen leads the Child and Family Health research theme group referred to as SEaRCH, (Supporting Evaluation and Research in Child and family Health) within the School of Nursing. She is an Institute of Health Visiting Trustee and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Karen’s professional background is in nursing and health visiting previously practicing as a health visitor in Salford and later in Lancashire. She has experience in a number of academic roles as a research assistant, research fellow, senior lecturer and now working within the School of Nursing as a Reader in Child and Family Health. She originally joined the University of Central Lancashire in 1998 as a senior lecturer to deliver educational programmes for health visitors and community nurses. She gained experience as a course leader for undergraduate and post-graduate Specialist Community Public Health Nursing programmes, as a Research Degrees Tutor and currently supports doctorate students within the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at UCLan. She also has undertaken external examining duties at universities across the UK and internationally.

Her own doctorate and post-doctorate research has involved the application of realist evaluation methods to examine parenting and family support. Her interest in health visiting/ public health nursing, led in 2011 to a secondment to the National Nursing Research Unit, King’s College London to complete a national review of health visiting, including an empirical study of recruitment and retention issues.  Her research and educational experience has enabled her to establish and co-facilitate the North of England Health Visitor and Child Health Research Network (information via Twitter and Eventbrite) established in 2013 with Dr Sue Peckover at Sheffield Hallam University. Karen also contributes to the UNICEF Central and Eastern Europe International Technical Advisory Group on Home Visiting. In parallel, she has partnered with the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) to develop educational resources for nurse home visitors promoting early child development and has co-delivered nurse home visiting training in Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkmenistan.

Karen is an editorial board member of the Journal of Health Visiting and she peer reviews submissions for a number of health and social care journals. She is a committee member of the Global Network of Public Health Nurses and has previously chaired the UK Standing Conference on Specialist Community Public Health Nurse Education. In 2018 Karen was presented with an special award by the Journal of Health Visiting for her contribution to health visiting internationally.


  • PhD: A Realistic Evaluation of Parenting Support Services, King’s College London, 2008.
  • MSc (Masters by Nursing Research) University of Manchester, 1998
  • PGCert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, UCLan, 2003
  • BN (1st Class Hons), with RGN and HVCert, University of Manchester, 1989
  • FiHV – Fellow of the Institute of health Visiting
  • Registered Nurse Teacher: (NMC), 2006
  • PGCert in Research Student Supervision, UCLan & SEDA, 2010


Cowley, S., Malone, M., Whittaker, K., Donetto, S., Grigulis, A., Maben J. (2018) What makes health visiting successful – or not? 2. The service journey. Journal of Health Visiting, Vol 6, Issue 8, 404-412

Carter, B., Whittaker, K., Sanders, C. (2018) Evaluating a telehealth intervention for urinalysis monitoring in children with neurogenic bladder. Journal of Child Health Care.

Chalmers K., Whittaker, K. (2017) Approaches to Supporting Families. Chapter 4 In: Health Visiting: Preparation for Practice. 4th Edition. Edited by Luker, K., McHugh, G., and Bryar, R. (Eds) Chichester, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. ISBN-10: 111907858X

Whittaker, K. A., Malone, M., Cowley, S., Grigulis, A., Nicholson, C., & Maben, J. (2015). Making a difference for children and families: An appreciative inquiry of health visitor values and why they start and stay in post. Health & Social Care in the Community, Article first published online: 19 Nov 2015

Cowley S, Whittaker K A, Malone M, Donetto S, Grigulis A, Maben J (2014) Why health visiting? Examining the potential public health benefits from health visiting practice within a universal service: a narrative review of the literature. International Journal of Nursing Studies. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2014.07.013

Whittaker, K. Cox, P. Thomas, N. Cocker, K. (2014) A qualitative study of parents’ experiences using family support services: applying the concept of surface and depth. Health and Social Care in the Community.

Bywater T, L., Blower S, Berry V, Cohen J, Kiernan K, Mason-Jones A, McGilloway S, Pickett K, and Whittaker K (2014)

 Public Involvement in Research: Social and Emotional Well-being in Early Years. University of York, IEE.  ISBN: 978-0-9571068-1-9



Karen has experience researching parenting and family support, health visiting practice, recruitment and retention an, nurse education. She was the chief investigator for the local Evaluation of ChatHealth (EaCH) – a confidential SMS text messaging service for young people to contact school nursing services and co-investigator on the E-SEE (Enhancing Social-Emotional Health and Wellbeing in the Years) trial, led by Professor Tracy Bywater at York University Building on E-SEE Karen will lead the Fitting Fathers In project, supported by a 2018 bursary (the MacQueen Award) from the Education and Development Trust of the UK Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association. As well as working with community health services, Karen is a co-applicant on a CLAHRC-NWC partner priority programme project with Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundations Trust (LTHTr). This project concerns the development of a Neonatal Early Supported Transfer (NEST) home pathway for late pre-term infants.


The E-SEE Study led by Professor Tracey Bywater, University of York, is a collaborative randomised controlled trial involving a number of Universities, NHS and Social Care organisations. Dr Karen Whittaker, UCLan is an E-SEE study co-applicant leading on practitioners 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.  This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme (project number 13/93/10)  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 here.

(Neonatal Early Supported Transfer home). The aim of the NEST project is to develop and implement an evidence-based early supported transfer home pathway for late pre-term babies and address the health inequalities associated with their longer hospital stays. This new pathway would reduce average length of stay in hospital for late pre-term babies and deliver improved, infant-sensitive care to promote parental-infant attachments and establishment of successful breast-feeding.

(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.

(Evaluation of ChatHealth) 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.

Teaching Activities and Responsibilities

  • Postgraduate research modules
  • Research degree director of studies

External Affiliations

  • Trustee of the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV)


Oral Paper

Daune, D, Whittaker, K, Storey, H, Wilson, N, Benedetto, V (2018) Speeding things up to accelerate learning: An evaluation of two novel children’s Nursing Education programmes. Oral session 1Dii, Nurse Education Today (NET2018) 4-6th September. Churchill College, Cambridge.


Daune, D, Whittaker, K, Storey, H, Wilson, N, Benedetto, V (2018) Tackling the workforce gap: A novel approach for educating children’s nurses, poster session 2A4 Nurse Education Today (NET2018) 4-6th September. Churchill College, Cambridge.


Whittaker, K. Olive, P. Smith, G. Wilson, N. Ritchie, G. Whiteside, M. Kenyon, G. & Lawrenson, P. (2018) ‘What young people seek and school nurses say: an analysis of ChatHealth conversations’ Poster Presentation, The Queen’s Nursing Institute, (QNI) Conference, 24th September, Royal College of General Practitioners, London.


Whittaker, K. Olive, P. Smith, G. Wilson, N. Ritchie, G. Whiteside, M. Kenyon, G. & Lawrenson, P. (2018) ‘What young people seek and school nurses say: an analysis of ChatHealth conversations’, Poster Presentation, School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA) Conference, Manchester Metropolitan University, June 12th , Manchester.