Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

How do practitioners step up to the professional challenge of keeping children safe? Leading author Harry Ferguson draws on his own research, personal experience and real-life case studies to challenge the way we think about child protection. This highly original and engaging book captures the daily reality of practice within life's most personal spaces, and offers a rare insight into the lived experience of working with vulnerable children, their parents and other carers.

An inspiring declaration of the need for a new, intimate approach to child protection, this ground-breaking book lays the foundations of skilful, authoritative practice. It is a must for Social Work student and practitioners within this challenging field.

Table of Contents

1. Knocking on the door of history

Abstract
These words were spoken by an 11-year-old girl to a child protection social worker in England in 1909. The fact that she was being sexually abused by her father, as well as neglected, serves to show that the problem of child abuse has a long history. What was new at this time was the social work practice that brought this abuse in the family home to light. This is a book about those child protection practices. To begin to outline what these practices involve and to evaluate how child protection can most effectively be done, we need to go back and consider how it began and ask: Why is child protection practice done in the ways that it is? Why, for example, is the home visit so central to its methods? This chapter provides a historical analysis of the emergence of child protection practices, especially the home visit. It shows that the concerns arising from recent high-profile cases are nothing new but have been around for as long as there has been a modern child protection practice. The chapter uses historical case studies to show how, from the outset, gaining access to homes, moving around homes, inspecting them and the children have been crucial practices in protecting children, but we have lost touch with their importance and no longer have a language to adequately describe and understand them.
Harry Ferguson

4. The home visit: crossing the threshold

Abstract
Although it is almost 50 years since Noel Timms wrote this, his words could not be more relevant to social work and child protection today. Despite being the core place where face-to-face work goes on and the heart of child protection, the home visit has been almost completely ignored in analyses of practice. Having already dealt with getting there and knocking on the door, it is time to step inside and get straight into the heart of the child’s life and home. This chapter begins to consider how child protection is performed in the home by drawing on social workers’ accounts of their experiences and examining scenes from home visiting practices in child death inquiry reports. It identifies a core problem of contemporary child protection as being social workers (and other professionals) not moving in rooms or around houses enough to meaningfully engage with children. To correct this, new understandings are needed of the dynamics of practice and homes in child protection.
Harry Ferguson

6. Relating to children

Abstract
It should go without saying that the child needs to be at the centre of child protection. It has to be said because children are so often lost sight of and not properly related to, and this can have tragic consequences. Attempts to ensure child protection professionals focus more effectively on the child have periodically been developed in policy and have always been in tension with protecting the rights of parents and the family to privacy. The most recent manifestation of this in England, for instance, is that revised government guidance issued in 2010 places a specific requirement on social workers to see children alone when assessing their needs and promoting their safety (DCSF, 2010). But what does ‘seeing’ children mean, where should they be seen, how can this be achieved and what do we know about how best to work with children and young people to ensure they are safe? This chapter explores these questions through the notion of ‘relating’ to children. This terminology has been chosen because it captures a range of stages of work, from ‘accessing’ children and initial ‘engagement’ with them, to longer term therapeutic and support work. It also includes different activities: observing, talking, listening, walking and playing with children.
Harry Ferguson

8. The car as a space for therapeutic practice

Abstract
As earlier chapters have shown, social workers and other professionals regularly have to relate to children and other family members in their most intimate spaces: living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms. A key aim of this book is to enter these spaces where practice is actually done in order to deepen understandings of the encounters between professionals and children, parents and other carers that go on in them, but where research and writing about child protection have previously failed to go. This chapter focuses on another crucial, and neglected, space where child protection work goes on: the car. There is, in fact, no more intimate space in which practice goes on, in the sense of the small enclosure and close proximity that the car forces on its occupants. When the space of the car is given the detailed attention it deserves in social work, it emerges as much more than a one-ton object that enables the worker to reach the child and get from A to B. The car is a site of practice where vitally important opportunities for meaningful communication and therapeutic work with children arise, as the quote above encapsulates. It is a space where vulnerable children make significant disclosures and ‘therapeutic journeys’ go on, in every sense, whether it is during drives that are undertaken as part of ongoing casework, or when children experience hugely significant ‘moves’ into care, changing placement or other life changes.
Harry Ferguson

10. Working with mothers

Abstract
This chapter focuses on working with mothers. Unlike evidence of work with fathers, which will be covered in Chapter 11, this is huge subject. Mothers, it can be said, are child protection. Throughout its history, there has always been one corollary to the aim of keeping children safe: improving how women mother their children. As Jonathan Scourfield (2003a) has shown, applied in an uncritical way, such instrumentality leads to mother blaming. This means women being expected to carry on with caring adequately for their children irrespective of the hardships they endure and how men treat them. Over the past 30 years, the women’s movement and feminist theory have critically analysed practice and clarified the components of what effective ethical work with mothers has to involve. This chapter considers how mothers can be worked with in ways that ensure their responsibilities to provide safety and adequate care for their children are met, while making notions of fairness and justice meaningful.
Harry Ferguson

13. Multi-agency working and relationship-based practice

Abstract
Child protection is a multi-agency endeavour. Its effectiveness depends on information about children at risk and their families being clearly communicated between professionals. At every stage in the child protection process, the roles and responsibilities of all the agencies and professionals involved in a case must be well coordinated and planned. To achieve this, strategy meetings between involved professionals at the point of referral and case conferences at the point when initial investigations and assessments have been completed must be a routine part of good practice. The coordinated multi-agency child protection plan agreed at the conference must then be implemented by each professional performing their designated role. Regular formal case review meetings must happen (usually every three months) and good quality interprofessional communication maintained on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis until the identified goals have (or have not) been achieved. This chapter considers the nature and dynamics of multi-agency working at the level of day-to-day practice. It does so by analysing the complex nature of relationships between workers and families and between different professionals, and exploring what relationship-based practice with children and parents means in the context of increased multi-agency working and authoritative practice.
Harry Ferguson

15. Intimate child protection practice

Abstract
This book has sought to account for the nature of child protection practice and social work by grounding it in an analysis of the everyday practices and movements of child protection. It has tried to understand why it is that abused children are not protected when professionals are face to face with them. The aim has been to provide systematic knowledge about how practitioners need to perform actual child protection practices while face to face with children and parents in their homes and other places. This book has set out the form that child protection takes from the moment practitioners leave their desks and offices, and the skills, knowledge and organizational support, as well as the courage and resilience that are needed if practitioners are to carry through on child protection in the intimate way that is required.
Harry Ferguson
Additional information