In this article, we will argue for the moral legitimacy of support and its difference from intervention and the need to engage with and develop a family support project for the twenty-first century. We call for a debate on the current settlement between the state and family life and for a recognition that a perfect storm has ensued from the unholy alliance of early intervention and child protection. We will argue for a project that celebrates families' strengths as well as their vulnerabilities in the context of considerable adversities and (re) locates workers as agents of hope and support. We draw from a diverse set of literatures and disciplines to locate our arguments within a broader project occasioned by the economic crisis and questioning of the verities of neo-liberalism.
Although there is now increasing evidence as to the role played by social factors in contributing to the onset of mental health difficulties, there has been little systematic examination of the role that social factors can play in enabling (or impeding) recovery. This paper provides a review of the emerging international literature in this area, and is linked to a wider conceptual review undertaken as part of a major project researching recovery practice in the UK. Research findings are explored in detail in relation to three areas that had been identified by the wider review as central to recovery: empowerment and control over one's life; connectedness (including both inter-personal relationships and social inclusion); and rebuilding positive identities (often within the context of stigma and discrimination). Out of this emerges a clearer picture of the importance of particular social factors, which starts to define a more broad-based and proactive agenda for mental health social work—with an emphasis not just on working with individuals, but also on engaging with families and communities. However, there is a need for further research and development work in order to determine how to intervene most effectively in order to influence specific social factors.
Findings from a 14 site mixed methods study of over 1500 youth globally support four propositions that underlie a more culturally and contextually embedded understanding of resilience: 1) there are global, as well as culturally and contextually specific aspects to young peoples lives that contribute to their resilience; 2) aspects of resilience exert differing amounts of influence on a childs life depending on the specific culture and context in which resilience is realized; 3) aspects of childrens lives that contribute to resilience are related to one another in patterns that reflect a childs culture and context; 4) tensions between individuals and their cultures and contexts are resolved in ways that reflect highly specific relationships between aspects of resilience. The implications of this cultural and contextual understanding of resilience to interventions with at-risk populations are discussed.
Findings from a 14 site mixed methods study of over 1500 youth globally support four propositions that underlie a more culturally and contextually embedded understanding of resilience: 1) there are global, as well as culturally and contextually specific aspects to young people's lives that contribute to their resilience; 2) aspects of resilience exert differing amounts of influence on a child's life depending on the specific culture and context in which resilience is realized; 3) aspects of children's lives that contribute to resilience are related to one another in patterns that reflect a child's culture and context; 4) tensions between individuals and their cultures and contexts are resolved in ways that reflect highly specific relationships between aspects of resilience. The implications of this cultural and contextual understanding of resilience to interventions with at-risk populations are discussed.
In the past decade, social capital has been explored internationally in the disaster and social work literature, particularly in terms of historical oppression and limited economic resources of disadvantaged communities. Social capital in the United States, however, has had less integration. Using a qualitative grounded theory approach, we examine the different types of social capital (bonding, bridging, and linking) through a social work lens. We examine how social capital operated in the lives of 40 families following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana. We attempt to understand how residents utilized their social capital to survive the storm, relocate, and rebuild their lives and communities. Results indicate residents, especially those with low incomes, relied on, built upon, and collapsed all levels of social capital for individual, family, and community survival. Participants described a process through which close ties (bonding) were important for immediate support, but bridging and linking social capital offered pathways to longer term survival and wider neighborhood and community revitalization. This paper also discusses how social capital inclusion in social work can strengthen or hinder individual and community development following a catastrophic event.
This article draws attention to the faulty design elements at the front-door of children's local authority services, arguing that current attempts to increase safety, through the formalization of organizational procedures and their enactment by IT systems, may have had the contrary effect. We argue that the analysis of errors in organizational settings should focus on immanent systemic weaknesses, particularly the 'latent conditions' for error that generally increase the risk of failure. Reporting the findings from a twoyear ESRC-funded ethnographic study, and examining the local adaptations of practice arising in the performance context of the 'modernized' front-door of children's services, we draw attention to the short-cuts that the current configuration of the initial assessment system appears to necessitate, given the immutable timescales and excessive audit requirements. New modes of governance can clearly play a central role in error management, but the design of an effective system needs to be based on the needs of users and on a thorough understanding of their working practices.
Child protection social work is acknowledged as a very stressful occupation, with high turnover and poor retention of staff being a major concern. This paper highlights themes that emerged from findings of sixty-five articles that were included as part of a systematic literature review. The review focused on the evaluation of research findings, which considered individual and organisational factors associated with resilience or burnout in child protection social work staff. The results identified a range of individual and organisational themes for staff in child protection social work. Nine themes were identified in total. These are categorised under 'Individual' and 'Organisational' themes. Themes categorised as individual included personal history of maltreatment, training and preparation for child welfare, coping, secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction. Those classified as organisational included workload, social support and supervision, organisational culture and climate, organisational and professional commitment, and job satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The range of factors is discussed with recommendations and areas for future research are highlighted.
Abstract The well-documented day-to-day and long-term experiences of job stress and burnout among employees in child welfare organisations increasingly raise concerns among leaders, policy makers and scholars. Testing a theory-driven longitudinal model, this study seeks to advance understanding of the differential impact of job stressors (work–family conflict, role conflict and role ambiguity) and burnout (emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation) on employee disengagement (work withdrawal and exit-seeking behaviours). Data were collected at three six-month intervals from an availability sample of 362 front line social workers or social work supervisors who work in a large urban public child welfare organisation in the USA. The study's results yielded a good model fit (RMSEA = 0.06, CFI = 0.96, NFI = 0.94). Work–family conflict, role ambiguity and role conflict were found to impact work withdrawal and exit-seeking behaviours indirectly through burnout. The outcome variable, exit-seeking behaviours, was positively impacted by depersonalisation and work withdrawal at a statistically significant level. Overall, findings, at least in the US context, highlight the importance of further examining the development of job burnout among social workers and social work supervisors working in child welfare settings, as well as the utility of long-term administrative strategies to mitigate risks of burnout development and support engagement.
This paper addresses growing professional discontents with the increasing formalisation of social work practice exerted through systems of risk management and audit. Drawing on an ESRC-funded study of social work practices in children's statutory services, this paper provides a critique of instrumental approaches to risk management in social work. Through the discussion of three illustrative case examples, we argue that risk management is an inherently complex, contingent and negotiated activity. Social work practitioners are obliged to comply with risk reduction technologies, but informal processes continue to play a critical role in shaping decisions and actions in this relationship-based profession. From practitioner accounts, we identify key elements of the informal logics of risk management. We conclude that the bureaucratic-instrumental bias manifest in the modernisation of children's services, in privileging metrics and administrative power leaves the informal and relational aspects of practice under-emphasised and under-theorised. Suggestions are made about how practice might be advanced in the complex world of child welfare and protection.
This article challenges the terms we use to describe the relationship between those who assess and commission services and those who are the recipient of those services. In particular, the article identifies the different terms that have been used in British social work, including 'client', 'customer', 'consumer', 'service user' and 'expert by experience', highlighting their assumptive worlds and the relationships the terms suggest and signify. Service user (the most popular term at present) is highlighted and critically analysed and found to be increasingly problematic and unable to describe the complexities of the service—recipient relationship. Alternative terms are discussed and found wanting, whilst a possible way forward is suggested to avoid the negative connotations of any one particular term.
Social workers are classic street-level bureaucrats. This article provides a critical examination of Michael Lipsky's account of discretion within street-level bureaucracies. While concurring with the main thrust of Lipsky's critique of management control of discretion, I argue that he gives insufficient attention to the role of professionalism in his analysis and the impact this has on the relationship between front line managers and workers and the nature of discretion. I employ a qualitative case study of adult social work within a local authority to illustrate and develop this argument. The study, which draws primarily on interviews with local managers and practitioners, suggests that the professional status of social workers influences both the nature of their discretion and the way in which this is managed. I conclude that Lipksy's work needs to be augmented by an understanding of the role of other perspectives, such as professionalism, in examining manager—worker relations and discretion in the street-level bureaucracies within which social workers practise.
The high levels of stress and burnout endemic to social work have been found to contribute to the current retention problems in the UK. It has been argued that resilience is a protective factor that enhances the ability to manage stress, and promotes wellbeing in the social care context. Little is known, however, about the individual difference factors that promote resilience in this context, or whether this protects the well-being of staff. In order to inform the development of interventions to enhance the work-related well-being of early career social workers, this study examined several emotional and social competencies (i.e. emotional intelligence, reflective ability, empathy and social competence) as predictors of resilience in 240 trainees. Whether resilience predicted psychological distress was also investigated, together with the role played by resilience in the relationship between emotional intelligence and distress. The emotional and social competencies explained 47 per cent of variance in resilience. A significant negative relationship was found between resilience and psychological distress. Resilience fully mediated the negative association between emotional intelligence and psychological distress, highlighting the importance of inter-and intraindividual emotional competencies in promoting resilience and enhancing well-being. How these findings might inform the curriculum to help trainees enhance resistance to workplace stress is considered.
The Common Assessment Framework is a standard assessment tool to be used by all professionals working with children for assessment and referral. The CAF is hailed as a needs-led, evidence-based tool which will promote uniformity, ensure appropriate 'early intervention', reduce referral rates to local authority children's services and lead to the evolution of 'a common language' amongst child welfare professionals. This paper presents findings from a study, funded under the Economic and Social Research Council's e-Society Programme. Our purpose in is not primarily evaluative, rather we illustrate the impacts of CAF as a technology on the everyday professional practices in child welfare. We analyse the descriptive, stylistic and interpretive demands it places on practitioners in child welfare and argue that practitioners make strategic and moral decisions about whether and when to complete a CAF and how to do so. These are based on assessments of their accountabilities, their level of child welfare competence and their domain-specific knowledge, moral judgements and the institutional contexts in which these are played out.
This paper critically reflects on policy developments and debates in England in relation to child protection and safeguarding over the past twenty years. It argues that the period from the early 1990s to late 2008 saw policy change in significant ways. The state developed a much broader focus of concern about what constituted risk to children and what the role of professionals should be in relation to this; increasingly, the emphasis was upon 'safeguarding' rather than 'child protection'. However, the period since late 2008 has not only seen the focus shift more centrally to child protection, but there has been a renewed official priority given to social work. These developments have been given an added impetus with the election of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government in May 2010. The paper concludes by considering the current state and possible future directions for child protection and safeguarding in England and the role of social work in this.
This paper examines the changing form of knowledge in social work over the past thirty years and its implications for theory and practice. In particular, it considers the impact of new systems related to a range of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the shift from a narrative to a database way of thinking and operating. In doing so, it attempts to identify a series of key challenges and questions which need to be considered in order to engage with the changes. In particular, it addresses how far social work is still primarily concerned with subjects and their social relationships and argues that social work now operates less on the terrain of the 'social' and more on the terrain of the 'informational'. Such changes have implications for the relationship between theory and practice in social work and the nature of 'social' work itself.
In this paper, we explore the ways in which child welfare, adolescent mental health and juvenile justice service providers engage in processes of responsibilisation. Drawing on qualitative data gathered from service files of youth receiving concurrent services from child welfare, corrections and mental health services, this article will discuss how a neo-liberal approach to service is reflected in the case notes of front line staff. Analysis reveals an overarching reliance on discourses of youth responsibilisation in the service files, where the risks which young people are exposed to were perceived as rational choices rather than contextual factors that needed to be accounted for in case management and service plans. Front line workers discussed case plans in terms of youth being willing or unwilling, compliant or non-compliant with regard to programming. This view of youth as autonomous actors had repercussions for youth who did not present as 'co-operative' and 'mature'. The article concludes with a reflection on the role of services in the lives of vulnerable youth and implications for practice.
Abstract It is well known that in cases in which abused children have died, social workers and other professionals did not relate to them effectively—the phenomenon now known as the ‘invisible child’. Much less well understood is how often and why such invisibility occurs where there has not been a major inquiry or scandal and this paper draws on research which observed day-to-day encounters between social workers, children and families. In most of the practice, children were seen and related to but, in a small number of home visits, social workers were not child-focused. The paper provides a detailed analysis of those cases and shows how social workers were overcome by the emotional intensity of the work and complex interactions with angry, resistant parents and family friends. Workers were also affected by organisational culture, time limits on their work and insufficient support to enable them to contain their feelings and think clearly. The powerful impact of unbearable levels of complexity and anxiety on social workers requires much greater recognition. Sociological, psycho-dynamic and systemic theories are drawn upon to establish how workers need to be helped to think clearly about children and relate to them in the close, intimate ways that are required to keep them safe.
Based on a Freedom of Information request with data from 75 per cent of all English children's services departments covering over half a million children, this paper shows that 22.5 per cent of children born in the 2009-10 financial year were referred to children's social care before their fifth birthday. Three-quarters of them were at some point assessed, almost two-thirds found to be in need and a quarter formally investigated. These findings show the full extent of children's involvement in children's social care before the age of five. One in every nine children born in 2009-10 was suspected by social workers of being abused and this high level of involvement is only justifiable if it is demonstrably reducing harm and promoting well-being of children-an outcome which is contested. Early Help's introduction was associated with high proportions of children being referred and assessed and rapidly increasing numbers of investigations, thus questioning its ability to prevent entry to the child protection system. The paper calls for a change from the current emphasis on individualised and investigative approaches to child protection in order to provide an effective and humane response to children, the majority of whom live in families affected by high levels of deprivation and poverty.
Within a very short space of time, the concept of personalization has come to occupy a central place within dominant social work and adult care discourses within the UK. Through an analysis of one influential model of personalization, this paper will explore the factors behind the concept's current popularity. I shall argue that this popularity is due primarily to its congruence with key themes of New Labour thought, including individualization, responsibilization and the transfer of risk from the state to the individual. I shall conclude that, given its acceptance of the marketization of social work and social care, its neglect of issues of poverty and inequality, its flawed conception of the people who use social work services, its potentially stigmatizing view of welfare dependency and its potential for promoting, rather than challenging, the deprofessionalization of social work, the philosophy of personalization is not one that social workers should accept uncritically.
Abstract There is increasing attention to decision making in social work as we become more concerned about ‘risk’ and the most effective design of assessment tools to aid professional judgement. In order to develop practice, a better conceptual understanding is required of the cognitive processes in making these judgements. This paper explores the potential use of heuristic (small-scale, ‘rule-of-thumb’) models of cognitive judgement in social work, recognising that human beings (including social work professionals) cannot simultaneously process large numbers of factors with associated statistical weightings. This paper discusses heuristic models of professional judgement based on a proposed concept of psycho-social rationality. Such heuristic models would take account of the psycho-social environment in which the decision is being made as well as of the cognitive processes of the decision maker. The potential application to professional judgement in social work is discussed with reference to examples of various types of social work decision. Potential issues in developing and adopting this theoretical approach in practice are raised—including legal dimensions and potential bias—and the implications for social work research are discussed.