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Thomas Coram Research Unit

Leaders of research into children, parenting and families since 1973.

Unit Director: Professor Margaret O'Brien
Co-director: Professor Claire Cameron

The Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) is highly regarded for its policy impact. Our research projects utilise a variety of innovative social research methods, ranging from ethnographic studies of children's everyday lives to international comparisons of parental leave policies and impact studies of services for children and families. We are strongly international in our collaborations and networks.

About us

Background

TCRU was established in 1973 by the psychologist Professor Jack Tizard and grew out of a critique of the institutionalisation of the care of young children in health and education settings.

We have a long history of researching those children and families that are most vulnerable to economic and social adversity. Our centre has a wealth of expertise in a wide range of research methods and a particular tradition in cross-national and multi-method research designs.

Our team

Director

Academic staff

Teaching Fellows

Honorary Researchers and Professors

Professional Support Staff

  • Rosi Hirst, Academic Administrator and PA to Professor David Voas
  • Mohan Muthoo, Academic Administrator

Academic visitors

Affiliate Academics accepted by TCRU are persons normally holding established academic posts overseas in institutions of higher education. Their admission to UCL is based upon an application to pursue their work in a particular field of research in one of UCL's Departments, with collaboration and consultation with members of TCRU and the department as appropriate.

In the first instance applicants should contact the person in TCRU they wish to collaborate with. Note that UCL operates a "bench fee" financial arrangement for visitors. 

For other general enquiries email: tcru@ucl.ac.uk

Study with us

Programmes

We teach and supervise undergraduate, Master's, PhD and post-doctoral students across the social sciences.

Undergraduate study

Students on this course learn to understand and analyse complex global and social issues, gain multidisciplinary training in research skills, and learn how different research methods contribute to understanding real world phenomena. Students conduct an independent research project for their dissertation in the third year.  

Doctoral study

TCRU offers a rich and supportive research culture for doctoral students.

Applications to undertake PhD training and research in any of our areas of interest are welcome. Our work falls under eight broad thematic areas and supervisors welcome enquiries that fall within these theoretical and methodological areas.

Students also benefit from the range of training in established and innovative methods that is built upon our ESRC funded NOVELLA programme. This includes new methods of re-analysis of qualitative data including narrative, oral history, paradata and archival data. As well as secondary analysis of large scale data sets, biographical-narrative methods, ethnography, policy analysis techniques.

Our research unit attracts students from all over the world and from diverse backgrounds. They study either part-time or full-time. Students may take a number of different doctoral pathways, for example, choosing either the face-to-face Social Science MPhil/PhD or the online Education MPhil/PhD

Our students are strongly encouraged to embed themselves into the department research culture by attending our regular seminars where they can find out more about the work of world renowned experts in the fields. They can also join the department reading group and students are encouraged to created their own study groups. 

Further information

Our activities

    Research

    Our work influences theoretical debates and public policies on: 

    • early childhood
    • children’s health
    • care and education services
    • children’s agency
    • young people’s identities
    • intersectionality, reproduction
    • motherhood and fatherhood
    • gender equality and fluidity
    • family diversity
    • poverty including food poverty
    • parental leave
    • place-based inequalities
    • children’s language brokering
    • transnational families and practices
    • social pedagogy
    • work-family reconciliation
    • migration experiences.

    Research methods

    Our research adopts quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods designs including, secondary analysis of large-scale data sets and comparative cross-country policy analysis. 

    Particular methods cover: 

    • child and youth centered interviewing
    • citizen science
    • narrative approaches
    • arts-based social research
    • visual methods
    • ethnography
    • co-construction of research with marginalised communities. 

    Research themes

    Our research spans three fields:

    Children’s wellbeing: services and practices

    Gender, families and work

    Migration, mobility and diversity.

    View all themes

    COVID-19 research

    TCRU staff are providing an evidence base on COVID experience, impact and recovery for families and the services that support them particularly in disadvantaged communities.

    Families in Tower Hamlets: impacts of COVID-19

    This research aims to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on families in Tower Hamlets. It will explore the social, economic and health impacts on family life with young children. For more information: Families in Tower Hamlets: impacts of COVID-19.

    FACT Families and Community Transitions under Covid

    Funded by the British Academy, this research project aims to gain a better understanding of the complexity of daily life for families with children during the COVID-19 pandemic. More information: FACT Covid: Families and Community Transitions under Covid.

    COVID-19 impact on children's well-being

    This research uses a community sample of children aged 7-11 years, and their families, to explore children’s wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis. For more information: Coping and wellbeing in families during the COVID-19 crisis.

    Research features

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    Partnerships

    Our staff have partnerships, knowledge exchange networks and close working relationship with a range of local, national and international partners including: 

    • Foundling Museum
    • Child Poverty Action Group
    • Donor Conception Network
    • London Migration Research Group
    • Fostering Network
    • International Labour Organization (ILO)
    • Equality and Human Rights Commission
    • Gender Equalities Office
    • Stonewall
    • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
    • UNICEF.
    Seminar series

    TCRU hosts a weekly seminar series, where invited speakers present work of relevance to the research interests of the unit. Seminars take place in the TCRU library on Tuesdays during term-time, 1 - 2pm. Anyone is welcome to attend.

    Latest news

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    Forthcoming events

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