June Thoburn

June Thoburn


  • 1.32 Elizabeth Fry Building

Personal profile

Areas of Expertise

Child protection and family courts; foster care and adoption; social work with children and families.

Key Research Interests

Since the late 1970s when I started my research career with a study of children in care who were placed ‘at home on trial’ I have studied most aspects of child and family social work.  My research has encompassed family support and child protection services for children and families in the community and services for children placed away from home, whether with family members, in foster care or with adoptive families.  I am frequently asked to draw on my own research and that of others to provide expert evidence (in the UK and abroad) in complex child welfare court cases, and to undertake analyses of events leading to child deaths or serious injury.  I was an advisor to the House of Commons Children Schools and Families Committee for their 2009 Report on Looked-after Children, and provided invited evidence on the research background for court decision-making to the (2011) Family Justice Review and the 2012 House of Lords Select Committee on Adoption.

I have a particular interest in the views of children, parents, foster carers and adopters on the services they are offered.  I employ a range of research methods, placing interview and observational data in the context of quantitative data obtained from records, surveys or routinely compiled administrative data.  My research usually has a policy focus, and much of it has been funded by the UK government or by child welfare agencies.  It also has a socio-legal focus, with relevance to children involved in public and private law disputes.  More recently I have collaborated with colleagues at UEA and at other UK and overseas universities to synthesise research on ‘what works’ in the provision of services to vulnerable children and their families.  The award of a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship in 2005 allowed me to pursue a long-term interest in children in out-of home care in the ‘developed’ world, and of the relevance of these practices to countries with fewer resources and less developed welfare systems.  The project raised questions about the possibilities but also pitfalls of ‘importing’ policies and practices across national boundaries and has led to dialogue with politicians, researchers and social workers in varied welfare systems.

Current and Recently Completed Research Projects


Child Welfare in International Context

I continue the research on child welfare across national boundaries, originally funded by the Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship, through collaboration with international colleague members of the International Association for Outcome-Based Evaluation and Research on Family and Children’s Services.  This has involved working with academics, data specialists and policy-makers in developed and less developed countries.  Comparable data on children entering out-of-home care are leading to an exploration of the factors accounting for differences between countries in the sorts of children who enter care, the different placements used in different countries, and the likely impact on outcomes.  The summary report was published as a UEA Monograph 2007, and further analysed in a 2010 journal article (Thoburn, J (2010)  ‘Achieving Safety, Stability and Belonging for Children in Out-of-home Care.  The search for ‘what works’ across national boundaries’  International Journal of Child and Family Welfare Vol 12, Number 1-2  pp 34- 48).  I subsequently collaborated with Professor Clare Tilbury from Griffith University, Australia to further explore the question of the over-representation of indigenous children amongst children in care.

Since 2010 I have provided research advice to SOS Kinderdorf International and broadened my interest to services to children in less developed countries and ‘transition economies.  I have worked with Professor Mark Courtney of Chicago University to publish a book of key journal articles and to synthesise outcome research on children in care (Thoburn, J and Courtney, M (2011) ‘A Guide Through the Knowledge Base on Children in Out-of-home Care’ Journal of Children’s Services, 6.4, 210-227).

Your Shout! and Your Shout Too! (2001- 2007)

These two linked studies (undertaken with Judith Timms of the University of Liverpool and Sue Bailey of UEA and funded by the NSPCC) involved  surveys of the views of over 700 ‘looked after’ children and a smaller number of children involved in private law contact and residence disputes.

Family Support and Child Protection Services

I continue to work on aspects of child and family support and protection services.  I contributed to the UEA inter-school studies of Pathfinder Children’s Trusts, and breakfast clubs.  In 2010 I was commissioned by the Center for Excellence and Outcomes on Children’s Services (C4EO) to write an expert briefing on working with families with very complex needs. 

In 2009 (with UEA colleagues Neil Cooper, Marian Brandon and Sara Connolly) I was commissioned by Westminster Children’s Services Department to undertake a process and outcome study of their innovative Family Recovery Project, which takes forward the recommendations of the government’s Think Family and Reforming Social Work initiatives. The report is available to view here.

Children Returning Home from Care

In 2008 I was commissioned by the Deutsches Jugendinstitut to provide an overview of the international literature on children returning home from care http://www.dji.de/pkh/expertise_dji_thoburn_reunification.pdf  and am currently a member of an NSPCC advisory group supporting the development of knowledge-based reunification services.  In 2012 I was commissioned by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) to write a Research Briefing on children returning home from care http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/briefings/files/briefing42.pdf

Service to Minority Ethnic Children and Families

Cultural competence, a key requirement for those working in child welfare, has been a theme running through my work over the past decade.  After completing a study of permanent family placement for children of minority ethnic origin, I collaborated with Ashok Chand of University of Warwick and Joanne Procter at UEA to synthesise the research on child welfare services for minority ethnic children and families.  This work highlighted the differences between ethnic groups in the UK with respect to the proportions referred to child welfare services.  An important theme in my ‘in care around the world’  project is the underlying reasons for the over representation in care of some ethnic groups, especially indigenous children.


Professor June Thoburn qualified as a Social Worker in 1963 and worked in local authority child and family social work and generic practice in England and Canada before taking up a joint appointment (with Norfolk County Council) at UEA in 1979.  As founding Director of the Centre for Research on the Child and Family and of the Making Research Count collaboration, she has a particular interest in finding innovative ways of helping social workers to make appropriate use of knowledge from a range of sources in their practice, a recent major interest is in international child welfare. She is currently a special advisor to CAFCASS and Chair of the Norfolk Family Justice Board.  She was awarded the CBE ‘for services to social work’ in 2002.

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or