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About this book

With an emphasis on professional expectations, values and practice skills such as building trust, listening and advocacy, this textbook helps enable social workers base their practice with children and young people on a truly child-centred model. Drawing on contemporary knowledge about childhood and children’s rights, it provides a critical understanding of the theoretical and legal basis for child-centred practice, and examines the dilemmas faced by professionals in maintaining their focus on promoting children and young people's participation in decision-making.

Child-Centred Social Work is essential reading for students and professionals, helping the reader understand what we can learn from the tragic deaths of children such as ‘Baby P’ and Victoria Climbié, and from children and young people in care who need their voices heard.

Table of Contents

Background to child-centred practice


1. Child-Centred Practice: The Context

Social workers in the UK practise in a wide variety of settings with children, young people and their families but children are the unifying centre that all social workers have in common in their work, whether they work in statutory or voluntary agencies such as family support, education units, child protection, fostering and adoption, leaving care or youth offending. In all these agencies they meet and talk with children and young people, their parents and carers and a variety of other workers and professionals, but sometimes, through dealing with the multiple demands of their work and the range of other professionals, the child him or herself may get lost.
Vivienne Barnes

2. Perspectives on Children and Childhood

Attitudes to working with children and young people in social work and in other professions do not exist in a vacuum. The views of society – its politics, cultures, values and norms – influence all members of society. This chapter explores whether we have a child-centred society and, if so, whether that is something new. In the late twentieth century the renowned German sociologist, Ulrich Beck (1992), argued that children are ‘overloved’ in late modernity and that the Western focus on children is a result of the instability of our other primary relationships. He claimed that we see children as an alternative to loneliness:
Vivienne Barnes

3. Children’s Rights and Child-Centred Practice

How does the championing of children’s rights contribute to child-centred practice in social work? This chapter considers the rise of children’s rights awareness in Britain and the West and its impact globally. It examines the laws and policies that have been drawn up to support the development of children’s rights and looks at children’s views about their rights. It also considers the impact of children’s rights on professional practice, in particular on social work practice. Included in the discussion is the role and rise of advocacy, although the practice of advocacy and working with advocates will be featured in a following chapter.
Vivienne Barnes

Developing skills in child-centred practice


4. Communicating and Developing Relationships with Children and Young People

What skills do social workers need to become more child-centred in their practice? There is a wealth of literature giving helpful guidance in social work skills, and this chapter examines and summarises some key areas in this, such as building trusting relationships and good communication with children and young people. It also highlights the views of children and young people themselves with illustrations from the author’s research and from other studies. Chapter 1 reports findings on the views of young people about the qualities they appreciated in their social workers. These indicate some skills that social workers can usefully develop. For example, children and young people talked about the importance of social workers building a relationship of trust and listening and respecting them.
Vivienne Barnes

5. Empowerment, Participation and Advocacy Skills

This chapter continues the exploration of skills in child-centred practice through considering some further key elements such as empowerment, the role of participation in decision making and consultation. There is a particular focus on the role of advocacy in social work and on working with children’s advocates. This highlights the differences in role between the social work focus on best interests and the advocacy focus on ‘voicing’. It draws on some of the author’s research findings about social work and advocacy.
Vivienne Barnes

6. Breaking Down the Barriers?

As discussed in the previous two chapters, there are many skills and considerations involved for those committed to child-centred practice, but a social worker may have all the necessary skills and still find it difficult to work in a child-centred way. This is set in the context of social work in a climate of ‘austerity’ that affects the quality of services overall. The chapter examines some of the barriers and dilemmas that social workers face in their everyday practice. It draws on the findings of the author’s research about the experiences of social workers who were trying to provide a good quality of service to children and young people and the views of the young people they worked with. The chapter concludes by examining some of the ways that these barriers might be overcome.
Vivienne Barnes

Specific fields of child-centred practice


7. Child Protection and Safeguarding

Whilst safeguarding children is everyone’s concern, social workers have more specific duties in child protection. Hence the term ’safeguarding’ is broader in its meaning. It is defined in ‘Working Together’ (DfE, 2015b, p. 92) as: Safeguarding can be very rewarding but it is one of the most complex areas of work for social workers and one where they come under the most scrutiny. This applies whether their work is with children or with adults who have mental health issues or who lack capacity. The extra pressure on social workers who work in children’s services is clear from the media uproar when a child’s death from abuse hits the headlines. Jones (2014) has documented the furore that arose following the death of ‘Baby P’ (Peter Connelly) and the effects this had on the professionals who were involved.
Vivienne Barnes

8. Children and Young People Who are Looked After

The above excerpt from the author’s research interview with a children’s advocate shows his appreciation of these young people and of what they have to overcome, but children who are looked after in the public care are some of the most disadvantaged in our society. This chapter starts with a brief outline of law and policy in this field, looking at how this may guide child-centred practice. It includes an examination of developments over time, for example the increased use of foster care, the pressure for adoption and special guardianship, and asks whether this is driven by child-centred concerns. It then considers the various disadvantages of young people in the care system and how young people’s experience may be ameliorated by child-centred practice.
Vivienne Barnes
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