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About this book

Since the Munro report (2011), a greater emphasis has been placed on the value of child-centred practice in social work with children, young people and families. It has come to be recognised that social workers cannot make an assessment or intervene to safeguard children and promote positive outcomes without engaging with the children themselves. This involves recognising the rights of the child, getting to know who they are, what they need, how they feel about their situation, and what they want for their future.

Split into two distinct sections, this authoritative text focuses on the foundational knowledge required for child-centred work, unpacking the ethical and theoretical principles that form the basis of the approach and exploring current debates around working with children and families. Benefitting from the authors’ extensive experience in academia and practice settings, each chapter:provides insightful practitioner testimonials and case study examples to help the reader apply what they have learned to everyday practice

highlights important research studies that give voice to children and young people, providing the reader with background knowledge of the evidence base for child-centred approaches

includes engaging questions and activities to enable the reader to reflect on what they have learned, and make links to their own practice, values and beliefs.

With a strong focus on developing the reader’s practice skills, particularly in engaging and communicating with children, Child-Centred Practice is an essential handbook for students and professionals involved in this complex yet rewarding area of social work practice.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION TO PART I

Frontmatter

1. CHILD-CENTRED PRACTICE: PRINCIPLES AND CHALLENGES

Abstract
In this chapter we begin to explore what we mean by child-centred practice – an approach that emphasises the importance of retaining a focus on the needs, interests, wishes and feelings of the child throughout any professional intervention involving or about children. We explore why it matters and why this approach to contemporary practice is relevant and important, particularly for social workers. We also recognise that this seemingly simple concept, emphasising the need to listen to children and support their involvement in decision-making about their lives, is inherently challenging, particularly in the context of safeguarding processes. We examine the principles and values that provide the imperative for this approach to practice and recognise that a strong foundation for child-centredness can be found in in the theory that underpins social work practice. The ‘Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families’ (Department of Health, 2000a) set the agenda for social work practice with children, young people and families in the new millennium. It established a theoretical and practical approach to assessment and outlined the principles and values that should underpin professional practice. Significantly, the first key principle emphasised for effective work with children and families was child-centredness: ‘This means that the child is seen and kept in focus throughout the assessment and that account is always taken of the child’s perspective’ (Department of Health, 2000a: 10).
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe

2. UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

Abstract
The vision of children implicit in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Children Act 1989 is that they are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. Children are individuals, members of a family and a community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to their age and stage of development. Notions of rights – human rights, citizen’s rights, children’s rights – have always been central to the social work value base. A full understanding of the rights of young people and a commitment to promoting those rights are crucial components of child-centred practice. In this chapter, we explore the way in which children’s rights are understood and underpinned internationally by the UNCRC and, more locally, by policy and legislation in the UK. We explore in particular the case law surrounding the Gillick ruling, which, though specifically focused on the rights of young people under 16 to consent to medical treatment, has been influential in making sense, more broadly, of the child’s right to self-determination. Attention will be paid to the participation rights of young people and the challenges for the child-centred practitioner of ensuring children are able to participate in decision-making processes related to their own lives.
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe

3. UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN

Abstract
Whilst recognising that uncertainty and risk are features of all our work, social workers nevertheless can draw upon an extensive body of research and theory that informs our practice, providing evidence upon which to base decisions intended to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for children and young people. Although we cannot know what the future holds for the children we work with, knowledge drawn from psycho-social perspectives increases our understanding of the impact of factors such as developmental stage, family background and social environment on the life chances of the children we are working with. The ‘nature versus nurture’ debate seems to have burned out and there is increasing recognition that human beings are formed through the unique interplay of innate and environmental factors that combine to mould the mature individual. The Department of Education statement about the knowledge and skills required by social workers emphasises the need for an understanding of child development that enables us to ‘critically evaluate theory and research findings and demonstrate informed use in practice of typical age related physical, cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural development, and the influence of cultural and social factors on child development’ (Department for Education, 2014). In Chapters 3 and 4, we explore some valuable contributions to our knowledge base that increase our ability to understand children, within their family and community context, in order to develop effective and sensitive child-centred practice.
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe

4. CHILDREN IN CONTEXT

Abstract
This chapter recognises that to understand children we need to adopt a holistic perspective, to see the whole child in the context of their family, community and wider social circumstances. Just as no man (or woman) is an island, according to John Donne’s famous poem (1624, reproduced 2007), even more so, this sense of human connectedness applies to children. Children are dependent upon their carers, usually their birth parents; their healthy growth and development is contingent upon the quality of care they receive within their family, which is in turn influenced by the wider environment for better or for worse. Young people form their identity, their sense of who they are, through interaction with parents and siblings, friends and significant others, within the cultural context of their daily lives. To intervene effectively in the lives of young people, child-centred practitioners need to recognise the importance of family relationships, the wider community and social context. When the assessment framework was first introduced in 2000, it emphasised that to understand a child, the professional must see the child within the context of their family and wider environment, as noted in Chapter 2. A holistic assessment of the needs of the child recognises that their health, development and well-being depends upon: ‘the complex interaction of the individual, the adults who determine the child’s upbringing and the social environment and the interplay between these factors’ (Seden, in Ward and Rose, 2002: 195). In this chapter, then, we explore sociological perspectives, in particular understandings drawn from ecological theory, that are helpful to professionals in making sense of the complexities of children’s lives and social circumstances.
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe

5. COMMUNICATING WITH CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE

Abstract
Child-centred practitioners see, hear and engage with children and young people. As Margaret Crompton has pointed out, this is a demanding task: ‘Workers’ principal skills must be really to see and to listen. This necessitates leaving all fears and assumptions behind, and endeavouring to engage with the world of the child’ (Crompton, in Wilson and James, 2007: 395). Children may be anxious to know why professionals are involved in their life or working with their family, curious about their role and concerned about what might happen next. Some children may be keen to talk about their worries, ask questions and let the adults involved know what they want. Others may feel a deep distrust of adults, professionals and social workers in particular. For many children, there will be barriers to overcome, in terms of social context and power relations, level of maturity, ability or disability, language difficulties or speech impairments, in order to express themselves and communicate with a social worker. The situation may be one of crisis or trauma, whereby children are involuntary service users who have no control over the adverse circumstances they find themselves in. Some children will seek out support and advice. Some will adopt defensive strategies of fight or flight, avoiding contact or demonstrating challenging behaviour when approached by professionals. It is the job of the social worker to recognise these responses, to seek to communicate with children and make sense of their world (Tait and Wosu, 2012).
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe

INTRODUCTION TO PART II

Frontmatter

6. WORKING WITH VULNERABLE CHILDREN

Abstract
Children and young people thrive in a diverse range of families; however, family life can at times be complex and pressurised. When parents experience difficulties in their own lives, it can have a profound effect on the child, both in the present and in the future. Families sometimes need additional support to ensure their children can achieve their full potential. Child-centred practitioners seek to identify vulnerabilities and needs, providing support for children and families before problems escalate. They take a strengths-based approach, seeking to build on protective factors in the family situation, in order to promote the resilience of the child. This chapter will examine child-centred practice when working with children and young people in need, highlighting specific groups of vulnerable children. We make links to relevant policy, legislation and research. The concept of early intervention is explored as well as how children and young people can be fully involved in the assessment process. It is not possible to examine every aspect of practice, therefore we will pay attention to some of the key themes in the case study, introduced on page 000. The case study provides the focus for our exploration of important aspects of child-centred practice, including social work with children with disabilities and supporting young carers.
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe

7. WORKING WITH CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE AT RISK OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT

Abstract
In child protection work, where the child or young person is rarely a voluntary service user, there is often the challenge of how to balance the rights of the child with their safety and well-being. Children and young people at risk of abuse and neglect come to the attention of social workers primarily from concerned professionals, family members or friends, or where abuse or neglect has been witnessed or is suspected. Disclosures made by children seeking help remain relatively rare (Jobe and Gorin, 2013). Although child-centred practice is ideally ‘set to the child’s pace rather than driven by adult or service-centred timescales’ (Lefevre, 2010: 26), there are instances where the social worker has limited information in their first interaction with a young person and needs to act without delay. More often, the social worker is involved in longer-term interventions in order to assess and manage risk, maintaining a focus on the overall welfare of the child as well as their immediate safety. Ensuring child-centred practice is hugely challenging in this complex area of work. This chapter considers how to work effectively with children and young people at risk of abuse and neglect. We explore risk factors that impact on the welfare of children and in some cases constitute child abuse.
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe

8. INVOLVING CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE IN SAFEGUARDING PROCESSES

Abstract
There are a number of safeguarding processes that can be implemented when children have been abused or are at risk of significant harm, to protect them from future abuse. These include initial enquiries and child protection investigations, child protection conferences and family group conferences, and Court proceedings. This chapter addresses the nature, incidence and prevalence of abuse and neglect and the impact of these experiences on children. There is a focus on what research tells us about working with children and young people in safeguarding processes and how social workers can ensure they are child-centred, despite the pressure and demands of the statutory child protection role. Finally, there is discussion regarding the engagement of children and young people in safeguarding processes, including the importance of speaking to the child alone and relationship-building with young people. There has been an upward trend in recent years in the number of children made subject to child protection plans (Department of Education, 2015). The number of section 47 enquiries increased by 12% in 2015 compared to 2014, resulting in 71,140 initial child protection conferences taking place across the UK (Department of Education, 2015). In March 2015, 49,700 children were the subject of a child protection plan, compared with 39,100 in March 2009 (Department of Education, 2015). Despite these increases in known cases.
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe

9. PROMOTING POSITIVE OUTCOMES FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE WHO ARE LOOKED AFTER

Abstract
There have been ongoing debates amongst policy-makers, service providers and practitioners, and within the family justice system, regarding the best way to achieve permanence and stability for children who come into care from high-risk backgrounds (Schofield et al., 2011). There are a range of options available including reunification, kinship care, adoption and special guardianship; however, there will continue to be children whose needs are best served through positive, planned, stable and secure foster placements or residential care. Children and young people who have been raised in the care system are accustomed to professional jargon and bureaucratic shorthand; however, there is no doubt that many feel confused and frustrated by the use of the acronym LAC – denoting looked-after children, but holding connotations of ‘deficit’ and ‘deficiency’. Children and young people consistently highlight that being treated with respect is a key component of a positive care experience (Coram Voice, 2015). The language used with service users is powerful. In this chapter, the phrase ‘children and young people who are looked after’ will be used to refer to this population. After all, they are children and young people first, above any other attribute.
Tracey Race, Rebecca O Keefe
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