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Helen Lancaster

ARC Practice Research Fellow


I am a Senior Projects and Development Manager for Early Help within Children’s Services in Northumberland.  I am committed to supporting vulnerable children and families and believe that evidence informed practice is central to this. I am a skilled practitioner / project manager and have always gravitated towards roles where I’ve been able to use my skills to effect changes that benefit children and families as I am passionate about effecting long lasting changes for this group.  My motivation to be involved in research comes from a drive to ensure continuous improvement in service delivery and support; improving Northumberland’s strategy and practice.

For the past 17 years I have held a variety of posts that have focused on delivering projects and commissioning services for better outcomes and impact for children and families; interpreting national policy and social and economic changes into service delivery, implementing transformational change in practice and improving performance.  Having worked in the sector for so long, I have an extensive knowledge of local government and statutory partners.

Currently, I am the lead for the local delivery of three national programmes that seek to have a positive impact on children and families, working within a partnership.

Project Summary

Leaving care: supporting positive Relational transitions of care Leavers and their birth families: RELATE study

Every year around 30,000 children in the care of the local authority cease to be looked after, many of which do so when they reach 18 years old. Whilst some move into supported accommodation, around half of care leavers are living independently by the age of 19 years compared to an average age in the UK of 25 years. These care leavers face challenges as they make the transition from care to independent adult life, often lacking the social support that their non-looked after peers benefit from and consequently experience high levels of social instability, isolation and loneliness. For many care leavers their only enduring social connection is with their birth families, and they often seek to contact family members after leaving care. However, most children and birth families do not receive support from professionals to prepare for or manage this relational transition, and may encounter difficulties. The project aims to develop an intervention to support carer leavers who wish to be in contact with their birth families to achieve a positive relational transition as they exit care.

The specific objectives are to:

  • Conduct a systematic literature review examining effective interventions supporting family reunification following a child being taken into care
  • Review care documents for a sample of looked after children to examine current practice with care leavers with children and their birth families as the child transitions out of care
  • Examine the relational support needs of care leavers and their birth families who wish to have contact with their birth families, from a range of stakeholder perspectives
  • Synthesise findings and co-produce with care leavers and social care practitioners an intervention supported by a logic model (theory of how the intervention works) and dark logic model (theorised harmful outcomes)

`Areas of interest 

  • Cared For / Looked After Children
  • Parental conflict and its impact on children
  • Prevention
  • Family Hub development – particularly accessible services for marginalised communities
  • Perinatal Mental Health

Recent or relevant publications 

Smart D, Jackson K, Alderson H, Davies L, Foley T, Foreman s, Kaner B, Kaner E, Lancaster H, Lingam R, Rowlands G, Rankin J, Spencer L, McGovern R. (2021) What influences parents and practitioners’ decisions to share personal information within an Early Help (Social Care) context? Implications for practice in sharing digital data across sectors. British Journal of Social Work, bcab167,