Written by Professor Sally Holland 

It feels like the blink of an eye since we launched CASCADE in May 2014 and quite a few people have asked me how on earth CASCADE got started. Do you just declare a research centre exists? Is there an application process? Did someone ask you to do it? 

The answer is really none of the above. I was a Reader in Social Work in 2013 and had been working on children’s social care research since leaving social work practice and starting my PhD in 1996. I wasn’t the only one in Cardiff University doing this kind of research. Most of the social work lecturers were researching children’s social care and we had started to get some big grants to do so. We also had quite a few PhD students doing important studies. 

However, to the outside world, whether that be governments, social service departments or people with experience of receiving services, all that research was quite invisible as we had no centre and were part of a much larger social sciences department. There were some good centres for children’s social care research in England and Scotland, but none in Wales.  

I had taken part in 2011-12 in the excellent Welsh Crucible programme, which equipped me with the confidence and skills to think big. I was determined to see if I could build something that would do the following: 

  • Put the views and experiences of children, parents and carers at the centre of our research 
  • Make our research accessible and useful for social workers, policy makers and the general public 
  • Build skills and expertise in research in Wales 
  • Improve the experiences and outcomes of children and their families who need support and care. 

Luckily, I was successful in an application for university research leave in 2012-13, during which time I was freed up from teaching and able to talk to people with lived experience of services, local authorities, government and other research centres to shape the centre. Our School of Social Sciences were supportive of the plans and helped with some seed corn money to employ a part-time administrator (the wonderful Louisa, who is still with us, but now a researcher) and a researcher to help apply for our first grants. We’ve grown a lot since then! 

One of the first things we started was the group that became CASCADE Voices (link) and some fantastic young people helped to shape our work from the beginning. As a group they are still central to our work, although early members have now moved on to other things and the next generation are advising us! 

CASCADE Voices supported our launch event in May 2014, at which our speaker was the then Health Minister Professor Mark Drakeford, who of course went on to be Wales’s First Minister.  

We only came up with the name CASCADE about a month before the launch. It is really difficult to find a name, but a few of us batted round some truly terrible acronyms until CASCADE emerged as the perfect name! (thanks Prof. EJ Renold 😉). 

I left CASCADE for a 7-year leave of absence between 2015 and 2022 to be the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. Since returning I’ve enjoyed being part of a much-expanded Centre with SO much going on. Receiving very large grants, including infrastructure funding from Health and Care Research Wales (link) has made all of the difference to our ability to meet our aims.  Under Donald Forrester’s leadership, the amazing staff, the fabulous people with lived experience who advise us, and the ever-so-helpful local authorities, governments, charities and funders who support our work, CASCADE has gone from strength to strength. 

What will the next ten years bring, I wonder?