Dr Derek Kirton

Emeritus Reader in Social Policy and Social Work


Dr Derek Kirton completed his PhD in Sociology at Durham University, following an MA in Social Work at Nottingham University and BA (Hons) in Theology at Kent University. He joined the University of Kent as a staff member in 1994. Derek has a background in child and family social work and has retained this interest in his teaching and research. 

Research interests

Dr Kirton’s research interests range across the field of child welfare and include youth justice, but are particularly focused on adoption and foster care, about which he is often consulted by the media and professionals working in these fields. He has acted as principal investigator on research projects for national government, local authorities, and third sector organisations.

In relation to adoption, he has written widely on its contested political nature and especially on the controversial topics of ‘transracial’ and international adoption. This has included critical analysis of media coverage and its focus on the ‘political correctness’ of social work professionals.

Regarding foster care, he has contributed, through writing and research, to debates on the ‘professionalisation’ of fostering as it has shifted from being seen largely as an extension of family life towards a ‘job’ for which foster carers are paid, again raising controversies such as the relationships between ‘love and money’. Other work on foster care has included evaluative research on therapeutic or treatment fostering and analysis of the recruitment practices of fostering agencies with respect to ethnic diversity.

Dr Kirton has been involved in research studies on the lifelong impact of growing up in care and, in particular, the identity needs of those who have graduated from state care.

Beyond these three particular areas of interest, Dr Kirton has written more broadly on child welfare, including the text, Child Social Work Policy and Practice (Sage) and articles focusing on racialisation within the field.  


Dr Kirton has contributed to a range of modules across the School, primarily relating to social policy and social care. He continues to contribute through occasional guest lectures. 


As an Emeritus member of the School, Dr Kirton is no longer able to consider applications for PhD supervision. 


Dr Kirton currently chairs the CoramBAAF Resesarch Group which brings together leading academics in the fields of adoption and foster care with government representatives to consider the ongoing relationship between research and child welfare policy.

He serves (2018-2022) as a member of the ESRC’s Grants Assessment Panel (B) which covers, among other areas Sociology and Social Work.

Dr Kirton has acted as an Associate Editor for the journal Child and Family Social Work, is a member of the Editorial Board for Adoption & Fostering, and has guest edited a special edition on adoption of the journal Genealogy.

He has also been a reviewer for a range of research bodies, publishers and academic journals.

Dr Kirton has taken part in various radio programmes relating to adoption and foster care and been consulted for TV programmes in these areas and as an expert witness in legal proceedings.  

Last updated