International Women's Day 2020 Spotlight: Professor Helen Stalford
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, for the week leading up to IWD (8th March) we will be spotlighting a different female colleague in the School of Law and Social Justice each day on our news stories page.
Today’s spotlight is Professor Helen Stalford who is the Chair of Law at the Liverpool Law School as well as the Associate Dean of School for Research and Impact. Helen has long been associated with the University of Liverpool, graduating from the University of Liverpool with an LLB Honours in English and French Laws with French in 1996. She is a leading expert on European children’s rights, having researched and published extensively in this area. Helen is also the cluster lead for the European Children's Rights Unit.
1) Tell us about yourself, how long you have worked at the University and what your research interests are:
I have been a member of staff at the University of Liverpool for 20 years. My research is in the area of children's rights, and I have a particular interest in how children's rights laws at international and European level impact upon children's rights in the UK. Much of my work focuses on children's access to justice, and so I spend a lot of time training practitioners and engaging with children with a view to raising children's awareness and understanding of how they can enforce their rights in practice.
2) Tell us about your research / a project you are currently working on:
I am currently leading a project on behalf of the Home Office relating to the impact of Brexit on immigrant children's rights in the UK. We are developing information resources relating to the EU Settlement Scheme - the new immigration status that all EU nationals resident in the UK will have to apply for - tailored specifically for children. This work is informed by detailed consultation with children across the UK to ensure that all those affected (estimated to be around 1 million children) will know about and be able to protect their rights to remain in the UK.
3) What inspired you to get into your research area?
I completed my PhD on the rights of children under EU law in the mid-1990s whilst working as a researcher on a European Commission-funded project. At that time, children had virtually no independent rights under EU law. It was as if they were not acknowledged as citizens in their own right - they were totally invisible to legal and policy makers and, indeed to judges and practitioners working in the field. So I started to look at how children's rights could be developed under EU immigration law, to ensure that their best interests and wishes were better protected. Much of this work involved talking to children across the EU about how their lives (their education, their family life, their friendships, their health etc) had been affected by moving between EU countries, and then making recommendations for changes in law and practice based on their experiences. This method of merging children's lived experiences with my analysis of the law has informed my approach to research ever since, not just at EU level, but in a domestic (UK) context too.
4) What would you hope that your research / project might achieve?
Brexit is going to have profound implications for children - and particularly for migrant children. We know that the Government has already put in place plans to withdraw certain rights currently available to EU migrants and their families in the UK.
By developing tailored information resources for children, and proactively disseminating them to practitioners and communities that have contact with those children, our aim is to ensure that children's residence and other rights in the UK are secure.
5) What is your message to women looking to work in roles like yours?
Be yourself and that is good enough; play to your strengths; surround yourself with those whose opinion you trust and value and remain open to learning.
I have not found it easy being a woman in academia, particularly when it comes to managing work and family responsibilities. The job does not fit neatly into set hours; it demands lots of international travel and the flexibility to respond to different roles with different people, including students, fellow academics, policy makers, practitioners and, in my case, children and young people. I have not always juggled those demands very effectively (there have been times when I have failed miserably). It has helped, though, to believe passionately in the value of what I am trying to achieve in my work, whilst accepting that caring for family is messy, unpredictable and at times out of my control. But I don't see the two worlds as competing; I have come to realise that equal (guiltless) investment in my own family life and well-being yields enormous benefits for the quality and integrity of my work, and vice versa. I try to be as discerning as I can about what I prioritise at work by asking myself: who is likely to benefit from this work and how? What is this work really for?
6) The theme for this years’ International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual – what does this mean to you?
For me, this theme reinforces the importance of applying feminist values in research. This means creating opportunities, through our work, to expose and address power inequalities, not just on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability, but on the basis of age. It is about challenging the routine exclusion of children from decision-making in the public and private sphere, the State's leading role in perpetuating violence against children through our corporal punishment laws and retraction of benefits and services for children, and it is about ensuring that the voices and lived experiences of children most affected by such abuses are clearly visible through all of my research, campaigning and knowledge exchange activities.
You can read more about Helen here: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/law/staff/helen-stalford/