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Contact between children and birth families

How can children in care be supported to maintain the relationships that are important to them throughout their lives?

Our aim is for decisions about contact between children in care, or adopted, and their birth families to be grounded in evidence about what works best for children.

A graphic reading 'positive experiences for children', showing a child reading a book and an adult using a laptop

Why we need research into contact between children and birth families


There is increasing recognition of the importance of supporting children to understand their history and identity to maximise healthy well-being and development. Despite this, decision-making about how contact is managed between children and their birth families when they are placed for adoption, removed from home through care proceedings, or voluntarily looked after by local authorities has evolved very little in recent years.

As a result, contact arrangements can be rigid and outdated. For example, ‘letterbox’ contact—the most common arrangement for the vast majority of adopted children—was designed for a pre-digital age and might not meet the needs of children and families now.

What we are doing


  • Nuffield FJO is bringing together the latest research and evidence to inform and inspire innovation in decision-making related to contact.
  • Our review of UK and international literature on the risks and protective factors around contact between children and birth families, carried out by NatCen Social Research and the University of Sussex, brings together what is known about the implications for the well-being of children and young people who have been separated from their birth parents.
  • During the first lockdown in 2020 we commissioned rapid studies into how contact was being managed (carried out by the University of East Anglia) and the effects of digital contact on well-being (by NatCen Social Research).
  • We have carried out a feasibility study into the potential role for digital in managing children’s contact in adoption, bringing together young adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, adoption agencies and local authorities and inspiring a set of pilots trialling new approaches to managing contact.

Explore our research on contact

Resource

Contact | 2020

Contact between children in care or adopted and their families: six key messages from research

Decisions about contact are crucially important for children and families when children are placed for adoption, removed from home through care proceedings, or voluntarily looked after by local authorities. This briefing paper distils and reflects on the key points from three evidence reviews in an eight-minute read.

Resource type

Spotlight

Region

International

Methodology

Evidence review
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Resource

Contact | Special guardianship and kinship care | 2020

Contact following placement in care, adoption, or special guardianship: implications for children and young people’s well-being

Those involved in decision-making about the ongoing contact that a child has with their extended family after they have been placed in residential settings or with foster carers, adopters, or special guardians, are required by law to put the welfare of the child first. But what do we know…

Resource type

Report
Summary

Region

International

Methodology

Evidence review
View resource
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Resource

Contact | 2020

The effects of digital contact on children’s well-being: evidence from public and private law contexts

While the UK government has announced some relaxation of statutory regulations for children in care, advice at the time of writing indicates that local authorities in England and Wales remain obligated to allow looked-after children ‘reasonable contact’ with their birth families during the current COVID-19 lockdown.1 In light of this…

Resource type

Report
Summary

Region

International

Methodology

Evidence review
View resource
View resource
Resource

Contact | COVID-19 | 2020

Contact during lockdown: How are children and their birth families keeping in touch?

On 23 March 2020 the UK government directed the public to severely restrict in-person contact and travel outside the home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This ‘lockdown’ presents significant barriers to children in local authority care, in kinship care, with special guardians, or adopted spending time face-to-face with…

Resource type

Report
Summary

Region

England
Northern Ireland
Scotland
Wales

Methodology

Consultation
Qualitative
View resource
View resource

Infographic

What do we know about children in the family justice system?

Our infographic pulls together what we know, and what we don’t know, about children’s journeys through the family justice system from national data.

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