Families Un-locked:  take part in a new study of the long-term impacts of the pandemic on families and relationships

Dr Gabriela Misca, is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Worcester. She is an expert in child and family psychology and is currently working in partnership with Relate, the leading relationship charity, on an exciting new study looking at the long-term impact of COVID-19 on families. Dr Misca explains more about the study here, including how you can take part in it:  

In March 2020 the UK went into lockdown and our daily lives changed beyond recognition. Suddenly families, couples and individuals found themselves navigating new challenges within the confinement of their homes.  While many people have managed these challenges with remarkable resilience, for others the high-pressure environment of lockdown has created new tensions and aggravated existing issues within their lives. 

Polling carried out in April on behalf of Relate, for example,  found that almost a quarter of surveyed UK adults with a partner (23%) said the circumstances of staying at home during COVID-19 were placing pressure on their relationship, while 43% of respondents said their experience of staying at home had bought them closer. Later polling in July found that 8% of respondents who have a partner said the experience of lockdown had made them realise they need to end their relationship, and more than half of respondents (55%) said they had been  inspired to make more effort with loved ones in the future.

A family are walking down the street with their child

The COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently created a unique opportunity to enable us to address fundamental questions about what helps families to resist, successfully navigate, and recover from unexpected challenges when they face significant risk and disruption to their everyday lives. Now that the lockdown measures in the UK are beginning to ease, and new requirements about returning to work and social distancing are being imposed, this study aims to explore the medium- and longer-term effects of the stressors on families and relationships.

Over the next year, this research study will discover how people’s relationships are faring as initial lockdown restrictions continue to lift and we learn to live with the ongoing threat of the pandemic. The research will delve into the COVID-19-induced effects of home schooling, living in confined spaces, living apart from loved ones, changes to working patterns and increased unemployment, dealing with poor health and bereavement, managing anxiety, uncertainty, financial insecurity, tension and conflict.  We want to recruit a large number of participants from diverse backgrounds to take part in the study, including people who have continued to work on the ‘frontline’ and their families, to understand how people from all walks of life have been impacted and how they are moving forward.

From October 2020 the research study will be replicated in Australia, in collaboration with researchers from Griffiths University and Relationships Australia. Through immigration, Australia has a culturally diverse population and emerging evidence globally indicates that people from different cultural backgrounds are being differently affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gaining an understanding these challenges in Australia will provide useful insights to compare with those from the UK and USA.

Professor Janet Walker OBE, Relate President and Research advisor to the study, has a bit more detail about what the research aims to achieve:

Relate has a long history of responding to societal change and this research will be vital for informing our services in these exceptional times. The ultimate goal of the research is to develop new ways to support people as they navigate the ‘new normal’ and to be better prepared to deal with any subsequent waves of the pandemic or similar public health crises. It is clear that more traditional ways of supporting individuals, couples and families have had to change and we need to find more innovative ways to ensure that people can safely and easily access the help they need when they need it.”

We are calling on members of the public to take part in the study and share their experiences on how the pandemic has affected and continues to affect families and relationships across the UK. We are particularly interested to hear from members of the BAME communities and from the frontline key workers and their family members, such as medics, nurses and ambulance staff; social care staff including those in safeguarding and care for the elderly; as well as police and armed forces.

Taking part will initially involve completing a 20 minute online survey. Find out more about the study and how you can take part here.

Dr Gabriela Misca, is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Worcester whose research portfolio aims to advance our understanding of complex and/or adverse family dynamics and transitions across the lifespan.