Contact with birth parents
: An exploration on its impact on the well-being of looked-after children

  • Eimear McDowell

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Contact with birth parents has been identified as one of the most important issues amongst looked-after children (Timms & Thoburn, 2006). Policy decrees that local authorities must support contact between looked-after children and birth parents unless this is not ‘reasonably practical or consistent with [the child’s] welfare’ (Schedule 2, paragraph 15). Research used to inform policy and practice has predominantly been based on methodologically flawed research, using incomparable samples, secondary data and has excluded the voice of the child. Therefore, the aims of the current study were to; 1) Explore care experienced young people’s experiences of contact with birth parents, 2) Identify the main issues surrounding contact with birth parents amongst looked-after children and young people, 3) Explore the impact of contact on looked after children and young people’s well-being. To achieve these research aims, the use of an exploratory sequential mixed-methods design was determined to be most appropriate. In an initial qualitative phase, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of looked-after children. The type of analysis used was interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), which is concerned with exploring and portraying the meanings and processes of individual perspectives (Jarman, Smith & Walsh, 1997). A total of 5 key themes were identified, including disempowerment, depersonalisation, empowerment, contact & placement stability, and support & attachment relationships, as well as an embedded theme of contact throughout. Findings suggest that the most fundamental function of contact was to maintain or enhance pre-care attachment bonds. These findings then informed the quantitative phase in which a survey was distributed to a sample of care experienced children (n=143). A proposed contact model was also developed from findings of the initial qualitative phase in which to interpret and measure data in the quantitative phase. The main findings suggest that contact can impact children’s well-being and that children’s attachment relationships help to predict contact and outcomes associated with well-being.
Date of AwardOct 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTony Cassidy (Supervisor) & Marian McLaughlin (Supervisor)


  • Attachment
  • Contact
  • Visitation
  • Access
  • Birth families
  • Foster care
  • Out-of-home care
  • Placement
  • Reunion
  • Kinship
  • Well-being

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