Beth Thomas – MRes Childhood Studies

Beth’s story

For over 15 years I’ve been working in early years education while raising a family of my own. When my son reached 9 he was diagnosed with autism. We’d had no idea and so I felt like I’d missed out on opportunities to support him.

The experience inspired me to try and help other children understand the world around them. I began writing children’s books about situations such as saying goodbye to your parents before work, that we as adults might take for granted as an easy thing to deal with.

At the same time I was studying for a degree through the Open University. The final project was to create a research proposal that had to be based on a real encounter in our lives.

A few months before there’d been a little boy at my pre-school who was moving house. The new experience really affected his behaviour and it wasn’t until he came in happy after the move that he told us he was relieved to still have his cats. He’d thought moving house meant leaving all your things behind! It snowballed into a bigger idea of what do children understand about moving house, and there was my research proposal.

While the final project went really well, a research proposal alone didn’t feel enough as I was just scratching the surface of the idea. I wanted to do the research itself! So I applied for a Master’s at another university close to my home in Brighton and was excited to get started, until disaster struck. The course turned out to be undersubscribed and the university cancelled it just a week before I was due to start.

My first call was to Portsmouth who were so helpful and supportive. There was one day left to send in my application and then I was off to the open day later that week. It was a bit of a leap into the dark, but I was determined to start this research and Portsmouth were willing to help me do it… and so I leapt.

Now I’m a year on and I’m convinced it was the best decision I could’ve made.

I’ve had the chance to spend time with families and observe first-hand what children go through when moving house. I’ve even started to collaborate with the housing charity Shelter after sharing some of my research with them. They invited me to discuss my experiences on BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire Show and afterwards offered to share their relevant data with me.

At that moment I knew that I had to see this through, and so soon I’ll be starting my PhD, looking at the rise in children in temporary and unsuitable accommodation as well as those moving home.

Carrying on with my studies will allow me to fully understand what children in these situations need, so that not only can I write books to help them, but I provide proper academic research that hopefully will change things for the better. There’s a lot of work ahead of me and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

Find out more about postgraduate study at the University of Portsmouth here