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Professor Sarah Crafter

Professional biography

I am a Professor in Cultural-Developmental Psychology and Director of Research in the School of Psychology and Counselling in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I have been in the School of Psychology and Counselling at the OU since 2017. Prior to that I worked at the Thomas Coram Research Unit at University College London, Institute of Education. I have also held lectureship positions in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies at the Open University and in the department of psychology at the University of Northampton. My work spans transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary boundaries relating to my interests in children and family migration. I draw on ideas developed within cultural and critical-developmental psychology. My interest in children, migration and language means that I also draw on areas like childhood studies, migration studies and sociolinguistics. I am an accredited member of the British Psychological Society and from January 2021, one of the editors for the journal Children & Society.

Research interests

My research is broadly interested in young people’s and family migration experiences and how they impact on everyday lives. My research challenges traditional developmental psychological paradigms that view children’s maturation according to age-graded or ‘normative’ patterns of growth, often described as developmental transitions. Instead, I argue that developmental transitions, when reframed as a dynamic sociocultural process provide practitioners and the academy with enhanced understandings of the lives of vulnerable children, whose challenging life experiences mean they do not follow the ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ transition to adulthood

My work mostly falls along two strands: i) a focus a child language brokers, who are children and young people who translate and interpret for family members following migration and ii) a focus on the care of separated child migrants as the navigate the asylum-welfare nexus. I am interested in the intersection between immigration regimes, care regimes and childhood. This area of research uniquely bridges theorisations of ‘non-normative’ childhoods, ‘care’ and ‘migration’ and in doing so, opens new ways of understanding the precarity of child migrants lives.

A selection of research grants

I have been awarded the following research grants:

2021-2024: ​Enhancing Pragmatic Language skills for Young children with Social communication Impairment (E-PLAYS2): Evaluation of a computerised intervention to promote communicative developmental and collaborative skills in children. National Institute for Health Research (Co-Applicant)

2021-2024: Networking the educational world: Across boundaries for community-building (NEW-ABC). European Commission Horizon 2020 (Co-Applicant and Work Package lead)

2020-2021: Empowering young language brokers for inclusion in diversity (Co-applicant). European Commission ERASMUS +

2019-2023: Children Caring on the Move (Principal Applicant). Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

2017-2019: Evaluating ‘Enhancing Pragmatic Language skills for Young children with social communication disorder’ (E-PLAYS): A feasibility study (Co-applicant). National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

2015-2016: Child language brokering: Spaces of belonging and mediators of cultural knowledge (Principal Investigator). Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). See here for Final Report

2012-2013: Child language brokering in school (Co-applicant). Nuffield Foundation

2006-2008: Evaluating the clinical environment for users of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Principal Investigator). NIRH: NHS Estates Research and Development Fund, Department of Health.


Research with child language brokers

I have a longstanding interest in working with child language brokers, who are children and young people who translate and interpreter for family members after migration to a new country. This interest began whilst I was working in an ESRC funded-project, led by Dr. Lindsay O’Dell, which sought to understand young people’s representations of children’s work. Two ‘non-normative’ or ‘atypical’ forms of work that we focused on were child language brokering and young caring. From there, I became Co-I on a Nuffield Foundation funded project looking at child language brokering in schools. More recently, the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded a project under the ‘Translating Cultures Innovation Fund’ to examine how child language brokers negotiate cultural knowledge across different spaces of identity belonging. This project was supplemented by funding from a Beacon Bursary for Public Engagement fund, which facilitated arts-based workshops and exhibitions with young people who act as language brokers. I have also overseen the development of a web-based resource about child language brokering aimed at children and young people, professionals and academics. In 2020, I am working with an international team of scholars on an ERASMUS + project titled 'Empowering Young Language Brokers for Inclusion and Diversity' (EYLBID). In 2021, the ‘NEW ABC’ project funded by Horizon 2020 and led by Prof Rachele Antonini (University of Bologna) began. This innovation action is aimed at enhancing the lives of migrant children and young people in education. This is a collaboration with Prof Guida de Abreu at Oxford Brookes University focusing on ‘Empowering young translators’ to help with their cultural, social and emotional wellbeing.

Research with children who migrant alone

More recently I have been working on research that explores care practices and caring relationship of separated child migrants. This work is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and seeks to investigate how separated child migrants, and those involved in their care, make sense of, value, and take part in care relationships and caring practices within the immigration-welfare nexus in England. The study is titled Children Caring on the    Move (CCoM). You can also follow our study on Twitter @CCoMstudy. Preliminary work in this area was funded by the UCL Global Engagement Fund and involves working with an interdisciplinary team of academics, professionals and charities/NGOs to examine how unaccompanied minors navigate care and asylum systems. The first pilot study involved a visit to the Refugee camp in Calais, France. A subsequent pilot study involved interviews with thirteen professionals involved in some form of 'care' relationships with separated child migrants (e.g. from social work, law, foster care, police and immigration and border control).

Research in other settings

In the past I have been funded by the National Institute of Health Research to examine users’ experiences of the built environment in outpatient Child and Adolescent Mental Health settings. More recently, I have been invited by Risbo University to act in a consultancy capacity to be part of an EU ERASMUS Plus project called NAOS. The overall project seeks to improve issues of diversity and migration in schools. My involvement will include visits to schools to deliver workshops that use contemporary media to examine social psychological issues such as stereotyping and ethnic identity issues.


Teaching interests

I am currently a member of the module team for DD803 'Evaluating Psychology: Research and practice', which is a Masters module in psychology. In this module we explore three areas that make up a fundamental part of everyday life: Home, Work and Society. To do so, we explore those areas through the lens of social, cognitive, counselling and forensic psychology.

Doctoral Supervision

I welcome enquiries from students who wish to study for a PhD. I am most interested in research that takes a cultural and/or critical psychological perspective on everyday practices of children, young people and families. This could be in areas of migration, identities, belonging, transitions and diversity. I usually supervise qualitative projects.

Previous and current supervision include:

2022-              'How do unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are transitioning from local authority care, and the professionals who support them, discuss integration when based on higher or lower diversity contexts?' (NIHR funded - in collaboration with University of Bedfordshire)

2019-               ‘A discursive investigation of bullying and its relationship to masculinity and power in adolescent boys’ friendship groups’

2019-               ‘The Silent Generation and Europe: a dialogical study of the older citizen, their response to the 2016 UK-EU referendum and the impact of the Brexit process.’

2017-2022       ‘The paradox of participation: Exploring the discourese and affect of child participation in public law Children Act Proceedings' (FASS Scholarship funded)

2015-2018       ‘Sri Lankan parent’s perceptions of SEN and their experiences of the SEN process whilst working with Educational Psychologists.’ UCL Institute of Education. Awarded DEdPsy 2018

2013-2017       ‘Stepmothering and identity: A synthetic narrative-discursive analysis.’ Open University. Awarded PhD 2017

2013-2016      ‘Exploring the classroom and school experiences of children affected by domestic violence and abuse from the perspective of parents, children and professionals.’ UCL Institute of Education. Awarded DEdPsy 2016

2011-2014      ‘Managing behaviour in private, voluntary and independent nursery settings: the experiences of practitioners’ UCL Institute of Education. Awarded DEdPsy 2014

2010-2013       ‘Femininity (re-) constructed: Turkish women's negotiations between culture, space and the body’ The University of Northampton. Awarded PhD 2013

2008-2011       ‘Constructing Leather: Professional and Consumer Accounts and Experiences’ The University of Northampton.Awarded PhD 2011


Impact and engagement

Most of my impact work has centred on my work with child language brokers. Children’s language brokering activities take place against a backdrop of long-standing and ongoing austerity measures, which show no signs of easing. This has resulted in large cuts to language services, including professional and community translating and interpreting. The reality is that children will be used for this practice. Our aim then, is to explore and understand the lives of children and young people who are engaging in a practice that is already happening. All the negative situations, as well as the positive.

To help raise awareness of the issues surrounding the use of child language brokering we have been working with young people and using art-based approaches to enable to them to give their views.

Funding and engagement activities

2017 (11th July) ‘Being a young interpreter. Migration Museum Project, London, UK. Delivered as part of ESRC Knowledge Exchange Dialogues Scheme led by Erel, U., Mohan, G., & Keith, M. (2017). ‘Understanding and Communicating Migration Issues through Arts. With this blog:

2016-2016: Many voices, many languages: Being a young interpreter. Bloomsbury Arts Festival (with Humera Iqbal and Claire Robins, UCL)

2015-2016: Many voices, many languages: Being a young interpreter. UCL Beacon Bursary for Public Engagement (with Humera Iqbal and Claire Robins, UCL)

2013-2015: Language Brokering: online public user information and engagement tool. HEIF Next Generation Fund (with Ann Phoenix)

Digital outputs

As part of our explore ‘Language brokers as cultural mediators of cultural knowledge, identity and belonging’ study (funded by the AHRC and undertaken with Humera Iqbal, University College London) we asked a group of language brokers to develop their own podcasts about their experiences of arriving in a new country, learning a new language and becoming a language broker. They spoke about both positive things, as well as the challenges. You can listen to some of their narratives in this short animation about ‘My life as a young translator’. Our hope, is that this animation will give other language brokers the stimulus and confidence to talk about their language brokering practices.


Externally funded projects

E-PLAYS (Enhancing Pragmatic Language skills for Young children with Social communication impairment) trial; evaluation of a collaborative computer intervention
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Sep 202131 Aug 2024NIHR National Institute for Health Research

Evaluation of effectiveness of E-Plays intervention for children with pragmatic communication difficulties.

Networking the Educational World: Across Boundaries for Community-building
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Jan 202131 Aug 2024EC (European Commission): FP (inc. Horizon Europe, H2020, ERC)

The NEW ABC project seeks to facilitate educational, cultural and social inclusion by taking a collaborative and participatory approach in the co-creation of innovation pilot actions across nine different European countries (led by the University of Bologna). The ‘NEW ABC’ will carry out innovative activities in learning settings aimed at enhancing the lives of migrant children and young people in education. In the UK, academics from The Open University (Prof. Sarah Crafter & Dr. Nelli Stavropoulou) and Oxford Brookes University (Prof. Guida de Abreu & Dr. Eleni Stamou) are running two pilot actions. The first pilot action is titled ‘Empowering Young Translators’. The aim of this pilot action is to work with young people (aged between 13-18 years old) who translate and interpret for peers, family and the local community to develop and design resources to improve the cultural, social, emotional and wellbeing elements of being a young translator. Taking a participatory approach, the young translators become part of a Young Translator Club, collaborating with young people to develop, design and then evaluate resources aimed at improving understandings of young translating as a caring practice. In the second half of our project, the UK team will take one of the innovation pilot actions developed by a team in Cyprus team titled ‘Adventures of the Little Prince’ and undertake that in the UK. Using the literary work by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, “the Little Prince”, the aim of this pilot action is to build the resilience of children who migrate by reshaping the narratives of their experience to enable them to feel included in the school environment.

Between protection and exclusion: Separated child migrants’ care relationships and caring practices
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 May 201931 May 2023ESRC Economic and Social Research Council

The Children Caring on the Move (CCoM) project explores separated child migrants’ experiences of care, and caring for others, as they navigate the complexities of the immigration-welfare nexus in England. Often referred to as ‘unaccompanied minors’ in legal and policy contexts, as well as prior research, we use the term ‘separated child migrants’ to highlight that, in the main, child migrants who have been separated from parents/primary carers have diverse migration statuses and are not entirely alone. The project sits against the backdrop of rising numbers of children who have been separated from primary carers during migration and conflicting state rhetoric: protecting children on the one hand and immigration control on the other. ‘Care’ is ambiguous in this context because children may receive care because of their ‘child’ status or be excluded from provision because of their ‘migrant’ status. CCoM starts from the premise that care is not necessarily limited to that provided by an adult or the state, but can be provided by separated children themselves. Our pilot studies demonstrate that a crucial way separated migrant children survive the challenges of migration and settlement is through the care they provide and receive from other migrant children. Yet, little is known about separated children’s care for each other as they navigate contradictory, complex, and changeable immigration and welfare systems. Nor do we know how separated children’s care for each other is understood and treated by relevant adult stakeholders, including social workers, foster carers, educators, youth workers, religious leaders, legal professionals, and policy makers. Our pilot studies indicate this neglect means that policies and practices designed to support separated child migrants can end up harming, excluding or discriminating against them. For instance, children who care for each other may be forcibly separated in foster care placements, go ‘missing’ trying to reunite, or have their ‘child’ status questioned. In response, this project makes a needed and timely intervention. Placing separated children at its heart, CCoM asks: • How do separated migrant children, and those involved in the care of separated children, make sense of and value care relationships and caring practices? • How do separated child migrants build, sustain and navigate care relationships and caring practices in the immigration-welfare nexus? • What economic, social and political factors shape the priorities of relevant stakeholders and institutions, and how do these affect the treatment of separated children? • What are the theoretical and policy implications of these potentially heterogeneous understandings and practices of care within the context of the tension between protection and immigration control?

TRANSFER IN Evaluating ‘Enhancing Pragmatic Language skills for Young children with Social Communication Disorder (e-plays): a feasibility study
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Nov 201731 Jul 2019NIHR National Institute for Health Research

Children with Social Communication Disorder (SCD) struggle to communicate appropriately in social contexts; for example, they misinterpret inferences and non-literal language and ignore turn taking and social conventions. SCD has profound effects on children’s social development, mental health, and education and is strongly associated with bullying, isolation and school exclusion. Around 7.5% of 4-5 year-olds are affected (about 2 per school class) making it as common as ADHD, dyslexia and childhood obesity. However, despite having a similar impact on mental health and well being as these conditions, language disorders remain little-known by the public and have attracted substantially less research funding. Consequently, there is a lack of evidence-based, cost effective interventions for children with SCD. We have developed a novel approach ‘Enhancing Pragmatic LAnguage skills for Young children with Social communication disorder’ (E-PLAYS) using a fun computer game. A pilot RCT by our team showed significant improvements in communication and enjoyment of social interaction by children with SCD who received E PLAYS when this was delivered by university-trained post-graduate research assistants. We want to run a full-scale trial to find out whether E-PLAYS could be delivered effectively by NHS speech and language therapists (SLTs) working with school teaching assistants instead of being delivered (as in our pilot study) by university trained research assistants. We will first run a small feasibility RCT to see: Whether we could recruit enough SLTs and children from NHS trusts for a full-sized trial, how acceptable they find EPLAYS and gather information on how best to run a full trial.