Professor Nina Biehal

BA (Hons) MA PhD

Visit Prof. Nina Biehal's profile on the York Research Database to see a full list of publications and browse her research related activities.


Areas of expertise

  • Looked after children
  • Foster care
  • Children's residential care
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Child protection services
  • Comparative child protection policy
  • Returning home from care
  • Adoption
  • Family support

Academic biography

Nina Biehal joined the Department in 1995 as a research fellow, working initially in the Social Work Research and Development Unit and later in the Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU). Prior to joining the University of York she had been a social worker in London and Leeds and a research fellow at the University of Bradford and the University of Leeds. She was the director of SPRU's Children and Young People Social Work Research Team from 2007 until 2013, when she joined the Department's research and teaching unit. Her research interests centre on vulnerable children and young people and their families, in particular children who experience abuse and neglect and looked after children. She is currently directing three studies:

• a study of pathways and outcomes for abused and neglected children, funded by the ESRC
• an international study of child protection policies systems and practice in England, Germany and the Netherlands, funded by Norface
• a follow-up study of children in Scotland who are permanently placed away from home, co-directed with Professor Brigid Daniel, University of Stirling

Advisory activities

Current membership of research steering groups

  • Confidence in Care evaluation, University of Cardiff
  • Care Pathways and Outcomes study, Queens University Belfast
  • ENRICH study, Maynooth University, Ireland

Recent advisory activities include:

  • 2012-15 Member of the Department for Education's Expert Working Group Permanence for Looked After Children.
  • 2013-14 Member of Department for Education's workforce working group for the Children's Homes Reform Programme.
  • 2013-14. Research advisor to the Department for Education national study The Children's Homes Workforce.
  • 2013-14. Research advisor to the NSPCC research and development project Achieving emotional well-being for looked after children.
  • 2013-14. Member of the executive group for the Llankelly Chase Foundation's Special Initiative on Young People Facing Severe and Multiple Disadvantage.
  • 2012 -13. Member of the Department for Education's Expert Working Group Returning Home from Care.
  • 2012. Expert witness invited to the House of Lords Select Committee on adoption legislation.
  • 2011. Expert witness invited to the Education Select Committee on child protection.
  • 2010-2012. Research advisor to the At Home in Care research project. Queen's University, Belfast. 
  • 2009 -2010. Research advisor to the Planning for Permanence in Foster Care research project, University of East Anglia.
  • 2005 to date. Member of the Research Group Advisory Committee, British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).

On the editorial boards of the journals Children and Youth Services Review and Child and Family Social Work.


Current and recent research projects

Home or care? Pathways and outcomes for children in a multi-ethnic cohort (2014-2016)

This recebtly completed study, funded by the ESRC, compared outcomes for children in foster care with those for children supported at home on Child Protection Plans. It collected data on the histories and current development of 390 children who had ever been looked after in out of home care due to concerns about maltreatment or who had been the subject of a Child Protection Plan but had never been placed in out of home care. It also analysed background data on over 11,000 collected by the Born in Bradford cohort study to explore the predictors of recorded child maltreatment.

This study was an inter-disciplinary collaboration between researchers at the Universities of York and Leicester, in partnership with the survey company TNS BMRB. The research team includes Professor Nina Biehal, Jim Wade, Dr Linda Cusworth, Helen Baldwin, Professor Kate Pickett, Dr Victoria Allgar and Dr Louise Tracey  (University of York), Professor Panos Vostanis (University of Leicester).

The study builds on Nina Biehal and Jim Wade's earlier study Caring for Abused and Neglected Children: Making the Right Decisions for Reunification or Long-Term Care (2011), which compared decision-making and outcomes for looked after children who return home to those for children who remain in care.

Permanently Progressing? (2014-2017)

The Permanently Progressing study is a collaboration with the University of Stirling and Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland (AFA). The team is working in partnership with 19 Scottish local authorities and collecting additional data from all 32.

This study has followed the progress of a cohort of children in Scotland who entered care when they were five and under and were subsequently placed either with foster carers (including kinship carers) or with adoptive families. The study is:

  • investigating decision-making  for children who take different pathways to permanent placement;
  • comparing progress and developmental outcomes for children who are fostered to those for children who are adopted;
  • exploring children’s experience of permanence in their substitute families;
  • and, through an analysis of administrative data, comparing the pathways over a four-year period of all children in Scotland aged five and under who became looked after in 2012-13.

The study builds on previous University of York studies of fostering and adoption, including Nina Biehal, Sarah Ellison and Ian Sinclair (2010) Belonging and Permanence: Outcomes in long-term foster care and adoption. 

Project website

Findings from the study will be presented at our forthcoming conference in Stirling on September 19 2018. For full details see the Eventbrite page.

Nina Biehal has also been invited to present the findings of the study in a keynote address to the sixth International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR 6) in Montreal, Canada, 8-12 July 2018. 

Press coverage 'New care study will foster understanding' The Herald, Monday 2 February 2015

The Hestia Study: Policies and responses with regard to child abuse and neglect in England, Germany and the Netherlands

This international study is funded by NORFACE, a partnership of 15 European research councils, under its Welfare State Futures research programme. The study will compare child protection policy, systems and practice in England, Germany and the Netherlands to investigate different approaches to child protection and their impact on children and families. 

This study will include both a comparative policy analysis and an empirical phase, which will focus on child protection practice and on parent perspectives on child protection interventions. The aim is to compare:

  • the ways child protection measures are negotiated, legitimized and perceived (by professionals and parents); 
  • their impact on children (e.g. protection/re-abuse; removal from home); the relationship between national policy, thresholds for intervention;
  • rhetoric in child protection policy and practice, locating this within the wider child welfare policy framework in each country.

We will also compare wider assumptions about the role of the state in family life, (including those regarding the rights of parents) and the ways different welfare states seek to balance children’s rights to protection and parents’ rights to family life. 

The study is a collaboration between the University of York (Nina Biehal and Helen Baldwin), University of Groningen (Professor Hans Grietens, Professor Erik Knorth, Dr Monica Lopez and Helen Bouma) and the German Youth Institute (Dr Heinz Kindler, Dr Eric van Santen and Professor Sabine Walper).

Project website

Recently completed research 

Nina and colleagues' recently completed UK-wide study of abuse in care, funded by the NSPCC, was published in 2014. This study provides important new data on the extent and nature of abuse in foster care and children’s residential care today.

Nina Biehal, Linda Cusworth and Jim Wade with Susan Clarke, Keeping children safe: allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of children in care. NSPCC 

This publication is available to download from:

Phd supervision

Supervision interests include children in foster care or residential care, adoption, abuse and neglect, vulnerable children and adolescents, child wellbeing and outcomes.

I am currently co-supervising Nurhadi’s thesis on child labour in Indonesia with Dr Christine Skinner and Shanshan Guan’s thesis on children from rural areas migrating to cities in China with Dr Caz Snell.



Wade, J., Biehal, N., Farrelly, N. and Sinclair, I. (2011). Caring for Abused and Neglected Children: Making the Right Decisions for Reunification or Long-Term Care. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Biehal, N., Ellison, S., Baker, C. and Sinclair, I. (2010). Belonging and Permanence. Outcomes in Long-term Foster Care and Adoption. London: CoramBAAF.

Biehal, N. (2006). Reuniting Looked After Children with their Families. A Review of the Research, London: National Children's Bureau.

Biehal, N. (2005). Working with Adolescents. Supporting Families, Preventing Breakdown, London: BAAF.

Biehal, N., Mitchell, F. and Wade, J. (2003). Lost from View. Missing Persons in the UK, Bristol: The Policy Press.

Biehal, N., Byford, S. and Clayden, J. (2000) Home or Away? Supporting Young People and Families, London: National Children's Bureau.

Wade, J., Biehal, N., Clayden, J. and Stein, M. (1998). Going Missing. Young People Absent From Care, Chichester: Wiley.

Biehal, N., Clayden, J., Stein, M. and Wade, J. (1995). Moving On: Young People and Leaving Care Schemes, London: HMSO.

Selected articles and chapters in books

Baldwin, H., Biehal, N., Cusworth, L., Wade, J., Allgar, V. & Vostanis, P. (in press) 'Disentangling the effect of out-of-home care on child mental health', Child Abuse and Neglect.

Biehal,N.,Baldwin, H., Cusworth, L., Wade, J. and  Allgar, V. (2018) 'In-home support or out of home care? Thresholds for intervention with abused and neglected children.' Children and Youth Services Review 89, pp. 263-271.  

Biehal, N. (2018) ‘Prevention and protection: child protection in England’ in Merkel-Holguin, L., Fluke, J.D. and  Krugman, R. (eds) National Systems of Child Protection.Understanding the International Variability and Context for Developing Policy and Practice, Cham, Switzerland:Springer.

Biehal, N. (2018) ‘Entre deux familles: La question de la stabilité, l’appartenance et la permanence des enfants en famille d’accueil en Angleterre’ in Chapon, N. and Premoli, S. (eds.) Parentalité d’accueil en Europe. Regards théoriques et pratiques professionnelles. Aix –en-Provence: Presses Universitaires de Provence

Sinclair, I., Parry, E., Biehal, N., Fresen, J., Kay, Scott, S. and Green, J. (2016) Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care in England: Differential effects by level of initial antisocial behaviour European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 25, 8, pp 843–852

Biehal, N., Sinclair, I. and Wade, J. (2015) Reunifying abused or neglected children: decision-making and outcomes. Child Abuse and Neglect, 49, pp.107-118.

Biehal, N.  (2014) ‘A sense of belonging: meanings of family and home in long-term foster care,’ British Journal of Social Work, 44, pp. 955-971. 

Green, J., Biehal, N., Roberts, C., Dixon, J., Kay, C., Parry, E., Rothwell, J., Roby, A., Kapadia, D., Scott, S. and Sinclair, I.(2014) ‘Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care for Adolescents in English Care: A Randomised and Observational Cohort Evaluation,’ British Journal of Psychiatry 204, 214–221

Biehal, N. (2014) ‘Maltreatment in foster care: a review of the evidence,’ Child Abuse Review. 23, 1, pp.48-60.

Dixon, J., Biehal, N., Green, J., Sinclair, I., Kay, C. and Parry, E. (2014) ‘Trials and tribulations: challenges and prospects for randomised controlled trials of social work with children’. British Journal of Social Work. 44, 6 pp. 1563-1581. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bct035 March 4th 2013.  

Berridge, D., Biehal, N., Hendry, E., Slade, J. and Tapsfield, R. (2014)  ‘Refocusing our approach to safeguarding looked after children in placements’ in Rahilly, T.and Hendry, E.  Promoting the Wellbeing of Children in CareMessages from Research. London: NSPCC Impact and Evidence Series. .

Biehal, N. (2012). 'Reuniting children with their families,' Kwartalnik Pedagogiczny, 57, 3, pp. 63-81.

Biehal, N. (2012). 'L’evidence-based nel mondo reale: sfide e problemi in Inghilterra', Studi Zancan, 13, 2, pp.75-81.

Biehal, N., Ellison, S. and Sinclair, I. (2012). 'Intensive fostering: an independent evaluation of MTFC in an English setting', Adoption and Fostering, 36, 1, pp.13-26.

Biehal, N. (2012). 'Parent abuse by young people on the edge of care: a child welfare perspective', Social Policy and Society, 11, 2, pp.251-263.

Biehal, N., Ellison, S. and Sinclair, I. (2011). 'Intensive fostering: an independent evaluation of MTFC in an English setting', Children and Youth Services Review, 33, pp.2043-2049.

Biehal, N. (2010). 'Demystifying evidence in child welfare' in Maluccio, A. N., Canali, C., Vecchiato, T., Lightburn, A., Aldgate, J. and Rose, W. (eds) Improving Outcomes for Children and Families Finding and Using International Evidence. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Biehal, N. and Rees, G. (2010). 'Children in public care in England: well-being, poverty and rights' in Vranken, J. and Vandenhole, W. (eds) Why Care? Child Poverty and Children's Rights. Intersentia: Antwerp.

Biehal, N. (2009). 'Foster care for adolescents' in G. Schofield and J. Simmonds (eds) The Child Placement Handbook. London BAAF.

Biehal, N. (2008). 'Preventive services for adolescents: exploring the process of change,' British Journal of Social Work, 38, 3, pp.444-461.

Biehal, N. (2008). 'Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care for Young Offenders: comparing young people referred to MTFC in England and the USA' in C. Canali, T. Vecchiato and J. Whittaker (eds) Assessing the Evidence Base of Intervention for Vulnerable Children and their Families. Padova: Fondazione Emmanuela Zancan. pp.218-220.

Biehal, N. (2007). 'Reuniting Looked After Children with their Families: Reconsidering the evidence on timing, contact and outcomes,' British Journal of Social Work, 37, pp.807-823.

Biehal, N. (2006). 'Effective support for at-risk teenagers and their families in the community' in C. McAuley, P. Pecora and W. Rose (eds) Enhancing the Well-being of Children and Families through Effective Interventions - UK and USA Evidence for Practice, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Biehal, N. (2005). 'Support teams for adolescents' in J. Scott, J. and H. Ward (eds) Safeguarding and Promoting the Well-being of Children, Families and Their Communities, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Biehal, N. (2005). 'Working with adolescents at risk of out of home care: the effectiveness of specialist teams', Children and Youth Services Review, 27, 9, pp.1045-1059.

Biehal, N. and Wade, J. (2000). 'Going missing from residential and foster care: linking biographies and contexts', British Journal of Social Work, 30, pp. 211-225.

Research reports

Biehal, N., Linda Cusworth,L., Wade, J. with Clarke, S. (2014)  Keeping children safe: allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of children in care, London: NSPCC Impact and Evidence Series.

Biehal, N., Dixon, J., Parry, E., Sinclair, I., Green, J., Roberts, C., Kay, C., Kapadia, D., Rothwell, J. and Roby, A. (2012). The Care Placements Evaluation (CaPE). Evaluation of Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care for Adolescents (MTFC-A). London, Department for Education

David Berridge, Nina Biehal and Lorna Henry (2012). Living in Children's Residential Homes. London: Department for Education. 

Berridge, D., Biehal, N., Lutman, E., Henry, L. and Palomares, M. (2011). Raising the bar? Evaluation of the Social Pedagogy Pilot Programme in residential children's homes. London: Department for Education. 

Biehal, N. Ellison, S, Sinclair, I., Randerson, C., Richards, A., Mallon, S., Kay, C., Green, J., Bonin, E. and Beecham, J. (2010). Report on the Intensive Fostering Pilot Programme. London: Youth Justice Board.

Biehal, N. and Parry, E. (2010). Maltreatment and Allegations of Maltreatment in Foster Care. A Review of the Evidence. University of York.


Contact details

Prof. Nina Biehal
Professor of Social Work
Department of Social Policy and Social Work
University of York
Room: A/B/101

Tel: 01904 321284