In the Academy’s 2023 Annual Lecture, Professor Lucie Cluver (University of Oxford and University of Cape Town), explored the role of social science in protecting us against future global threats.
At an event attended by Academy Fellows and members of the public, Lucie drew on her policy-focused research on the vulnerabilities faced by children and adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa to discuss the questions, challenges and possible solutions that have begun to emerge in the face of shared threats to society. She first highlighted the important role of social sciences in uncovering the story of the risks faced by young children and adolescents from AIDs-affected families and the implications for policy and programming of HIV prevention services and child protection in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Lucie commented: “We looked at child development – what did children need in order to grow up happy and healthy? And the answer from that was so clear, that it wasn’t just cash or money, it was also parenting. It was love and nurture… For boys and for girls the combination of cash plus care was the strongest way of reducing HIV risk.”
The lecture then moved on to the impacts of COVID-19, particularly on children’s vulnerabilities, and illustrated the power of drawing allies together with Parenting for Lifelong Health, an open access programme which aims to prevent child maltreatment and violence in low-resource settings and has reached 210.3 million people through national government programmes.
Lucie said: “This taught me two things. The first is that when there is a real crisis, many of the boundaries and structures that are set up to prevent people working together can fall away and the second thing is that there is a global hunger and thirst for good social science.”
Looking to the future, climate change, epidemics and conflict are intersecting crises with shared risk pathways leading to increased risks to children and adolescents, including early pregnancy and marriage, mental health distress and education loss. Lucie explained how patterns across social science studies have shown that economic strengthening, social protection, remote education, parenting programs and mental health support can work to block risk pathways for children and adolescents – and that during crises these are needed at scale.
Reflecting on the role that social science has in protecting society against future global threats, Lucie concluded: “We’ve got a big task on our hands in this next decade. There is no way that we will do it alone. We’ll do it if social scientists, medical scientists and data scientists work together…because these people, these children, their families, they deserve the absolute best social science.”
Watch the full lecture to find out more about this topic below.