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Mrs Rachael Owens

Assistant Professor (Research)

Assistant Professor (Research) in the Department of Sociology


I am an inter-disciplinary social researcher with a professional background in social work practice and the creative arts.

I am a Co-Investigator on The Next Chapter – a Contextual Safeguarding research project with four interrelated strands. I lead on ‘Sustaining Social Work’, a project looking at social workers’ experiences of ‘doing’ Contextual Safeguarding. The learning from this will inform the development of Contextual Safeguarding and address national debates about the future of social work as a values-based profession, contributing to knowledge about what kind of work we need to sustain the workforce. ‘Sustaining Social Work’ will bring new methodological developments into Contextual Safeguarding research, by inviting practitioners to join co-analysis groups, using adapted psycho-social analysis methods.

I am also providing maternity cover within the Innovate Project – a three-year ESRC funded research project looking at innovative ways of responding to adolescent safety and extra-familial harm, within children’s services.

My social care career began in the voluntary sector. I worked in a range of settings - from physical disabilities and mental health to family support. After qualifying as a social worker in 2014, I have specialised in adolescent safety and wellbeing. My PhD (in Social Work and Social Care, University of Sussex) was a collaborative doctorate with The Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) - a national, public health organisation who oversee an early intervention programme for young parents. My research looked at the FNP model, integrating psycho-social and practice-near methodologies with critical and sociological perspectives. Alongside my PhD, I worked for Hackney Children’s Services, setting up and running a service for young people who were thought to be ‘missing’ from home.

When the Contextual Safeguarding research team came to Hackney Children’s Services in 2017 (DfE Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme), I worked alongside them as a Practice Development Manager, developing policy and processes to support this new approach to practice. This led to a secondment at the University of Bedfordshire as a Social Work Practice Advisor (2019-2022) working in the Scale-Up project (National Lottery and MOPAC/VRU funded). I facilitated and researched system change in Local Authority children’s safeguarding services and managed the London strand of the project.

I am committed to research and practice that honours the complex, multi-systemic nature of life. I like to explore the interplay between individual/psychological and collective/social feelings, thoughts, and action. I have begun to integrate my early interest in the creative arts with social work research. Recently, I recorded two original songs using abstracted words from interview data and played these as a way of illustrating my arguments at a key-note presentation on discrimination towards young parents. I am keen to explore this further in my work, to bring the arts and social sciences together in lively interdisciplinary exchange.

I am a member of GAPS – the social work organisation promoting systemic, therapeutic and relationship-based approaches to social work

Research interests

  • Practice research
  • Adolescent safety and harm
  • Social work and social care workforce
  • Organisations and social systems
  • Critical approaches to ‘young’ parenthood and ‘young’ motherhood
  • Relationships-based approaches
  • Inter-disciplinary research
  • Creative and arts based methodologies in social research
  • Psycho-social methodologies

Esteem Indicators

  • 2022: BASW's Children and Families Thematic Group:


Conference Paper

Doctoral Thesis

Journal Article

Other (Digital/Visual Media)