Through virtual focus groups with Southend practitioners, who have been working with families during the pandemic, and parent surveys, the research team at the University of Essex will gain a strong insight into the challenges families are facing, including those unique to A Better Start Southend communities.

The research, involving the University’s Centre for Social Work and Social Justice, will then help inform the response to COVID-19, as well as how families can be supported during the recovery process.

Findings from the first phase of the research have been published in a preliminary report. This covers areas such as local and community responses to the pandemic, challenges, difficulties and benefits experienced by families, and perceptions of what could help. Drawing preliminary conclusions from the research, the report shows that the pandemic may have affected the mental and emotional wellbeing of parents in Southend, and that this is an area in which parents would like support and information. It also shows that, while worries about children’s learning and schooling needs are significant for some families, others have reported improvements in this area, and in the quality of time spent with children. The report suggests that, where possible, services should work with families and communities to embed the benefits and improvements they have experienced during the pandemic over the longer term.


Lauren O’Connell, Research Officer working on the COVID-19 Impact study, said: “This report is an important milestone in our ongoing research into the impact of COVID-19 on families and services in Southend. We have sought to release it in a timely manner so that practitioners and organisations working with families can engage with our findings as soon as possible, and use them to inform the innovative work they are already doing.”

Jeff Banks, Director of A Better Start Southend (ABSS), said: “Research and evaluation is a key component of A Better Start Southend and I am delighted we are able to greatly strengthen our partnership with the University of Essex in this area. The work that Professor Vasilios Ioakimidis and the team at the Centre for Social Work and Social Justice will do will positively impact on the lives of families as we test and learn our wide range of activities.”

Professor Vasilios Ioakimidis, Founding Professor of Social Work and Director of the University’s Centre for Social Work and Social Justice added: “I am very pleased to work collaboratively with ABSS to look at the hugely important issues surrounding children’s emotional, social and physical development. Generating knowledge through research and evaluation is a key aspect to this partnership. Our positive relationship with the strategic partners allows us to be responsive to current challenges and design innovative research streams such as the study on the impact of COVID-19 on practitioners and families.”

In March 2019, A Better Start Southend began an exciting new chapter when it transferred its Programme Evaluation activities to the University’s Centre for Social Work and Social Justice, at the School of Health and Social Care.


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