A childs drawing of two people holding flowers

The Child Protection and Social Distancing research project is funded by the UKRI/ESRC Covid-19 rapid response research call and is approaching the end of its first year of funding. It will run for 15 months in total. The project is led by Professor Harry Ferguson, with Professor Sarah Pink (CI, Monash University, Australia) and Dr Laura Kelly (Research Fellow).

A condition of getting the grant was to have ‘impact’ during the pandemic, which means a rather hectic schedule of sharing findings and recommendations through research briefings, blogs, academic papers, newspaper articles, social media and presentations.  To date, the project has taken part in 17 conference and training events and other engagement activities, aimed at social workers, social work managers, local and national policy makers, academics and students. This includes three webinars organised with our research partners Research in Practice and BASW.

Three academic articles have been published or accepted for publication:

  1. Ferguson, H., Kelly, L. and Pink, S. (forthcoming) Social work and child protection for a post-pandemic world: The re-making of practice during COVID-19 and its renewal beyond it. Journal of Social Work Practice. Advance Online Publication. 
  2. Pink, S., Ferguson, H. and Kelly, L. (2021) Digital social work: Conceptualising a hybrid anticipatory practice. Qualitative Social Work. Advance Online Publication. 
  3. Pink, S., Ferguson, H. and Kelly, L. (2020) Child protection social work in COVID-19: Reflections on home visits and digital intimacy. Anthropology in Action, 23(3): 27-30. 

The Project has published three research briefings aimed at practitioners focused on:

  1. Localised cultures of risk and safety, including policy/practice relating to home visiting, PPE, and ‘virtual’ visiting. We made strong recommendations about the responsibilities of organisations to their workers. 
  2. Humane practice and innovative adaptations to effective practice during the Covid-19 pandemic, including outdoor visits (doorsteps, gardens and walking) and an emergent hybrid practice that combines digital and in-person encounters. We consider lessons for the future.
  3. Digital social work, exploring how local authorities adapted to online interactions, how digital technologies were used effectively and challenges encountered, barriers including digital exclusion amongst families. We consider lessons for the future.

Several blogs summarise the project's findings through Research in Practice, reaching their members and 129 partner organisations.

An article in Community Care, the leading social work trade journal, in early February 2021 covered ‘12 lessons for children’s social work from practising under Covid’. Project leads have also given interviews to journalists writing for trade publications.

There is strong potential for impact on practice. Feedback from events and other dissemination activities has been very positive. Findings have resonated with social workers and managers from across the UK. Social workers not involved in the research have responded similarly to online articles and via Twitter. The project leads are also contributing to a Partners in Practice project, made up of six local authorities and funded by the Department for Education, which will disseminate learning from the pandemic for the future.

An article in the Guardian has helped to raise public awareness of the contribution made by social workers and other children’s social care staff during the pandemic.

Finally, the international profile of the research will be raised by presenting at the European Conference for Social Work in May 2021.