Children’s connections with families during the covid-19 outbreak: Interview with Professor Beth Neil

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Earlier this week Daisy Elliott spoke with Beth Neil, a professor in social work from the University of East Anglia. Neil, along with PhD candidate Ruth Copson, has recently launched a survey looking into contact between children who are adopted or in care and birth families during the coronavirus outbreak. The following blog details the conversation about her research.

What are your research interests and could you tell me a little bit more about how this piece of research came about?

As a researcher, I have always had an interest in contact between children and birth relatives – how it is done, how does it make those parents and/or children involved feel and whether the methods used are effective. Previously, most of my research has been around adoption but with this survey that we have just launched, we intend to look at foster carers’ and kinship carers’ experiences too.

This piece of research is funded by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory who are interested in contact in all its various forms in children’s social care and how to make it better for children. The original piece of work was to look into digitally mediated contact in adoption and whether it could be a modern alternative to ‘letterbox’ contact. But now, because of the pandemic, everybody has to completely rethink children’s contact in all settings all of a sudden, as we are all banned from going out the house. This is what I am interested in finding out more about through our survey.

What is the aim of the research?

I want to use this period during lockdown as a learning opportunity to improve contact. Can we be more imaginative about how contact happens? Can we make contact more inclusive and better support the child through it?

This situation with covid-19 is almost like an experiment that has been forced upon people and we’re having to try lots of new methods to facilitate contact. I want to find out what measures people are putting in place instead of meeting face-to-face.

I am interested to learn how this new situation is working in terms of delivering contact, so I would like to hear from all different types of foster carers – long-term, short break and those looking after older children, younger children or disabled children, but also any other professionals working in fostering in the UK. I hope that this survey will show what impact these changes have on foster carers but I also want foster carers to act as key informants about the impact it is having on children, as they are living with the children 24/7.

What is the end result of this research?

The plan is to take everyone’s views and produce guidance to help people through contact during the crisis. We also plan to publish a research report, briefing and journal article. We want to make this research as widely accessible as possible.

Why is it important that foster carers take part in your research?

The biggest group of children that this research concerns is fostered children as they constitute the largest proportion of children in care, so the opinion of foster carers really matters.

The survey has all open-ended questions and there are eight of them. Foster carers are invited to write as little or as much as they like and have time for. Every bit of information is important, so please take part.

Additional info: