Embracing Complexity: Identity in Research, Policy, and Lived Experience

Tuesday 2 July 2024
1.30 – 6pm
Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Coram Campus, WC1N 1AZ

Join us for a dialogue that will redefine our understanding of identity and its profound importance for individuals and organisations alike.

In a globalised, digital-first world, traditional labels no longer fully capture the richness and issues of identity experienced by children and young people who are living “in between lines” of social construct, family realities and personal journeys.

We invite you to join us to explore the layers and so-called ‘contradictions’ inherent to identity for the young today, and what this means for those in the children’s sector.

Organised by Youth Insight, a vital part of The Coram Institute for Children built on the work of young researchers alongside recognised experts in the field, this event introduces the ‘complex identity’ framework. Grounded in intersectionality, the framework builds upon scholarship from a range of geographies and disciplines. It offers a new conception of identity to help individuals and organisations embed depth, awareness, and empowerment into their self-understanding and practices by embracing the complexities of the modern world.

This event will bring together policymakers, researchers, practitioners, and others within the children’s sector to discuss the following ideas:

  • The scholarship of identity: Explore foundational concepts and cutting-edge research on the meaning and implication of identity.
  • Introducing ‘Complex Identities’: Gain a comprehensive understanding of this new framework and its implications.
  • Putting complexity into practice: Discuss how the framework can be incorporated into the practices and mindsets of organisations in your field.
  • Lived experience and personal identity: Understand the significance of complex identities for individuals.

The event will open at 1.30pm for a 2pm start. The event programme finishes at 6pm but we hope you will remain with us after for refreshments and discussion.

Event Running Order

1.30-2pm: Coffee and registration

Please arrive in good time to allow for registration.

2-2.10pm: Welcome and introduction from Dr Carol Homden CBE

Coram CEO Dr Carol Homden CBE introduces the event.

2.10-2.40pm: Responses to the papers from Professor Susan Golombok, Hardeep Matharu and Dr Tam Cane

The concept of Complex Identity emerged in the work of Zoe Lambert and Anthony Lynch with In-Between Lines as an exploration of the experience of those with multiple identities in a single social category. Through Youth Insight, they have produced two research papers exploring the formation, experience, and implications of complexity in identity. In this session, key voices from various disciplines will reflect on the ideas explored in this research and respond through their expertise and disciplinary lenses.


Susan Golombok is Professor Emerita of Family Research and former Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge. She has pioneered research on lesbian mother families, gay father families, families with transgender parents, families formed by single parents by choice, and families created by assisted reproductive technologies including in vitro fertilisation (IVF), donor insemination, egg donation and surrogacy. Her research has challenged commonly held assumptions about these families as well as widely held theories of child development and has contributed to policy and legislation on the family both nationally and internationally. Her most recent book is, We Are Family: What Really Matters for Parents and Children.

Hardeep Matharu is a journalist and writer, whose work focuses on the forces that shape us: identities, politics, and the media. The London-born daughter of Sikh Punjabi immigrants from British Kenya and India, she is passionate about bringing complexity, nuance, and depth to readers of her work. Hardeep is the Editor of the independent investigative news site and monthly print news magazine Byline Times, which covers ‘what the papers don’t say’. Before starting her career in journalism as an award-winning local news reporter, Hardeep read Law at Cambridge University. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Dr Tam Cane is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sussex. She has led research and evaluation projects examining anti-racist practice in social work practice. Tam has developed several models to support adoption practice, including the BRAC2eD model for debiasing the assessment and recruitment processes with racialised and minoritised ethnic prospective adopters. Tam founded and developed AFDiT, a transracial adoption framework, later co-created with people with lived experience of transracial adoption (adoptees, adopters and birth parents), and social workers, piloted and rolled out nationally. Dr Tam Cane is actively leading and co-researching a number of care and adoption projects.

2.40-3.40pm: Complex Identity Workshop by Zoe Lambert and Anthony Lynch

The workshops will delve into the world of complex identities and what it means for the young people who have them. Zoe’s will focus more on the development of adolescents as they encounter increasingly global and digital sources of community, whereas Anthony’s will explore the production of lived experience research and how it can reframe policy issues for researchers and organisations. Both will invite participants to consider how lived experience and academic research can mutually inform each other, feeding into policy decisions that benefits young people in marginalised communities.

Anthony Lynch is a researcher and mixed-heritage adoptee working in the intersection between Lived Experience and Policy. Their work in identity began when they co-founded In-Between Lines, an award-winning exhibition for individuals belonging to multiple ethnicities, cultures, and families. They are also a steering group member for an upcoming parliamentary inquiry into adoptee voices, organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption and Permanence.

Zoe Lambert is a transracial adoptee, born in Cambodia but raised in Singapore with a British passport. Attending an international school meant that she was constantly surrounded by a rich tapestry of cultures, ideas and traditions. Her diverse upbringing has shaped her understanding of complex identities and as a result, Zoe is passionate about contributing valuable insight to the discourse on complex identities, driven by her desire to help people understand themselves and others better.

3.40-4.10pm: Refreshments

Break for refreshments.

4.10-4.40pm: Q&A with Ruth Van Reken: Complex Identity in Context

Complex Identity emerged from a rich body of scholarship on multiplicity, intersectionality, and subjectivity in the experience of identity. This includes Ruth Van Reken’s theorisation of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and Cross Culture Kids (CCKs), which Zoe and Anthony have built upon to consider new intersections across various borders. Discussing both the UK and the dynamic global context in which it is integrated, this discussion considers the past, present, and future of scholarship on identity and multiplicity.

Ruth Van Reken is a second generation Third Culture Kid* (TCK) and mother of three now adult TCKs. She is co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, 3rd ed., and author of Letters Never Sent, her personal journaling seeking to understand the long-term impact of her cross-cultural childhood. For more than thirty-five years Ruth has travelled extensively speaking about issues related to the impact of global mobility on individuals, families, and societies. She is co-founder and past chairperson of Families in Global Transition. In addition to her two books and many articles, she has written a chapter in other books including Strangers at Home, Unrooted Childhoods, and Writing Out of Limbo. In 2019 she received an Hon. Litt.D from Wheaton College for her life’s work. She now lives in Indianapolis, IN with her husband David.

4.40-5.25pm: Identity in Practice (Panel)

What are the implications of complex identities for organisations, researchers, policymakers and others working within the children’s sector? This panel brings together experts from various fields to consider how identity is mobilised and embedded in the work of organisations, and how this may develop in the future.


Irene Levine, Managing Director of Coram IAC

Hannah Lawrence, Research Manager at Coram Impact and Evaluation

5.25-5.50pm: Lived Experience and Complex Identity

Moving away from theory, this discussion focuses on the lived experience of identity, the search for community, and the importance of creative expression in this endeavour.

If you are able and wish to support Coram’s future work please do make a contribution via your ticket purchase. We hope to make this conference accessible to everyone with a genuine interest in the content, regardless of financial limitations.

About Youth Insight

Youth Insight provides a pathway to young and emerging researchers, offering them the opportunity to develop their skills and lead/undertake rigorous research projects that turn experience into insight, and insight into impact. The research of Anthony Lynch and Zoe Lambert forms the basis of this conference and will be circulated prior to the event.

About The Coram Institute for Children

The Coram Institute is the only think tank dedicated to the future of children, working to inform and influence best policy and practice, and collaborate with relevant partners to deliver solutions to the challenges children and young people face for this and future generations.


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