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Understanding how children’s connections to birth families are being managed during social isolation and lockdown

The new social distancing measures introduced to tackle the coronavirus present a serious challenge to maintaining vital relationships between children in care, living with special guardians, or adopted, and their birth families.

The value of supporting children to maintain relationships with birth relatives is increasingly recognised — from the emotional support a bond with a loved sibling provides, to the sense of belonging from an understanding of history and identity. Amid concerns that this right will be jeopardised by COVID-19 restrictions, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has commissioned an urgent new research project, as part of its new modernising contact initiative, which will examine the experiences of children, families and those working to support them over the coming weeks.

The project, which will be carried out by Professor Elsbeth Neil and Ruth Copson from the Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of East Anglia, aims to develop guidance to support professionals and families in managing virtual contact while restrictions to in-person contact are in place, and to harness learnings relating to digital forms of contact in order to innovate around long-term solutions.

Lisa Harker, Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, said:

‘In times of stress or crisis, contact with loved ones becomes increasingly important, especially for already vulnerable children.

“The restrictions to face-to-face contact at a time when children are facing anxiety about school closures and the pressures on their home life, together with a children’s social care system facing immense strain, is creating a perfect storm. It is important to learn as quickly as possible from those already experimenting with virtual forms of contact, in order to support children and families more widely.’

The research team is looking for families and practitioners to share their experiences of maintaining contact between children and their birth relatives during the crisis. This could be social workers, guardians, contact supervisors, foster carers, adoptive parents, birth relatives or others involved in managing contact.

If you would like to know more about the study or take part in an interview please contact the research team:

Ruth Copson: or by phone/text on 07858 134673

Beth Neil: