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About this book

Social workers are constantly making decisions under pressure. How do policy, law, research and theory influence what they do? This important book provides the answers with a crystal-clear map of the field of social work with children and families.

Focused on four major themes - family support work, child protection, adoption and fostering, and residential child care, and reveals in detail all the challenges that social workers face every day. Edited by the highly respected Martin Davies, this authoritative and illuminating book argues that the skill of the social worker can have life-enhancing consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is an essential investment for students, educators and practitioners alike.

Table of Contents



Social workers have, for more than a century, been a significant and increasingly substantial occupational group in the UK and other parts of the world. From their beginnings within the framework of voluntary societies, they have moved steadily, as public employees, towards the hard centre of our democratic welfare economy. They have grown accustomed to the fact that members of society who have no need of their services may view them and their profession with some ambivalence. Thirty years ago, in The Essential Social Worker, I argued that they play a crucial part in the maintenance of our complex community in a state of approximate equilibrium. That remains true.
Martin Davies

Social Work and the Provision of Family Support


1. Family support: policies for practice

The policy context for the development of family support services has changed significantly during recent years. Family support now sits within a very different context; indeed, questions can be asked about the usefulness of the term in contemporary family-minded policy and practice. In this chapter, the changes are described and their implications for services and practices considered. Central to this discussion is the diverse meanings given to the idea of ‘family’ by policy-makers and practitioners. There are multiple understandings in policy and practice of ‘family’, and these generate challenges and tensions for those concerned with family support and family-minded practice.
Kate Morris

2. The legal foundations of family support work

Part III of the Children Act 1989 (CA 1989), when implemented in 1991, created the foundation for the responsibility of the state to provide support services to children who were considered to be ‘in need’. This was achieved by establishing a carefully considered set of duties and powers given to local authorities. These duties supplemented the duties the state nationally retained for what we usually refer to as ‘welfare benefits’ — broadly direct and indirect financial supports for adults who are not in employment or who need assistance with the cost of housing. The premise of Part III of the CA 1989 is that children do best if they grow up in their family, preferably cared for by parents or by family members. This premise is consistent with social and family policy, which recognizes that early intervention to support families and children who may be experiencing challenges and difficulties is more likely to prevent or reduce longer term impairment to a child’s development. It is also likely to reduce the need for the child to be removed from their parents’ care.
Leonie Jordan

3. The theoretical foundations of family support work

The seemingly straightforward concept of ‘family support’ contains within it many challenges, complexities and practice dilemmas. ‘Family support’ also comprises a number of diverse practices and thus it is difficult to define it or theorize about it. As a consequence of this complexity, it is sometimes referred to as a ‘slippery concept’ (Frost et al., 2003, p. 7) and because it encompasses so many meanings, ‘it is difficult to disentangle them’ (Penn and Gough, 2002, p. 17).
Nick Frost, Pat Dolan

4. What research findings tell social workers about family support

Family support in its different guises has a long history in our society. In Jane Austen’s novel Emma, first published in 1816, there is a delightfully observed scene where the heroine engages in what might be termed ‘family support’. The squire’s daughter in a country village, Emma, who has reasons of her own for walking across the village and appearing charitable, sallies forth laden with provisions to visit a family in need. The family’s problems are identified as sickness and poverty, ignorance and ‘temptations’, and Emma’s solution is to offer them a combination of handouts plus advice: ‘the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attentions and kindness, her counsel and her patience as from her purse’ (Austen, 1933, p. 86). What difference, if any, her ministrations make and what the family think of them is not recorded: these are not Emma’s concerns.
Alison Mcleod

5. Family support work in practice

‘What is it that social workers actually do?’ I have been asked this question many times and I still struggle to provide a simple accurate explanation. The social worker’s role has so many dimensions but at its heart is always support — support for people of all ages and backgrounds, people with situations and vulnerabilities unique to each individual. Family support social work teams work to protect the vulnerable while simultaneously enhancing family relationships and empowering people to effect the change required for a safe and healthy existence. Family support social work does not function in isolation, but complements the work achieved under child protection and vulnerable adult procedures.
Jess Mccormack

Social Work and Child Protection


6. Social policy and child protection: using the heart and the head

Child protection is now at the core of public policy for children. It has bothered policy-makers for more than a century, evidenced by the national societies, for example the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, calling for a better response to child maltreatment from the 1880s onwards. But it has become a focal point, at times a lightning rod of public policy, since about the 1960s when recognition of physical and sexual maltreatment increased and governments were impelled to develop child protection systems.
Michael Little, David Jodrell, Seden Karakurt

7. Legal perspectives on social work in child protection

Child protection law (the so-called ‘public’ child law) regulates at the profoundly difficult interface of the individual’s right to ‘private and family life’ under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the duty of the state to protect its most vulnerable citizens from abuse or neglect.
Caroline Ball

8. The place that theory plays in child protection work

The following quotation from a practising senior social worker demonstrates that the stakes involved in protecting children at risk of harm are high, both in terms of the children and families involved and for the workers and organizations charged with safeguarding responsibilities:
Social work isn’t easy. I am challenged daily with decisions concerning people’s lives and making the wrong choice could have serious, even shocking outcomes. Consequently, the guiding principle of my work is the welfare of the child and I stress the importance of a sound theoretical base to the work that I and my team carry out. Protecting children is perhaps the most sensitive, contested and debated area of current social work practice. The legacy of decades of inquiries into the serious injury and death of children at the hands of their carers, despite the interventions of social workers, means that public perceptions of the entire social work profession are often defined by highly publicized failings. Awareness of the nature of the harm from which social workers seek to protect children has grown significantly over the past two decades. Social workers in child protection are therefore working on constantly shifting sands, dealing with complex and multidimensional cases in an increasingly bureaucratized system that has all too often emphasized procedural compliance and process over quality of service and outcome.
Simon Hackett

9. The challenging nature of research in child protection

There are thousands of pieces of research evidence that could potentially inform what social workers do in the realm of child protection. Child maltreatment is multifaceted and different service approaches are likely to be effective with different types of family at different stages of recognition of actual or likely maltreatment (Thoburn, 2010). The evidence base reflects this diversity: studies differ in terms of focus, methodological strengths, the populations studied or techniques used. Research has mainly focused on issues like prevalence, determinants and health and social consequences. The disciplines and methodologies used to produce the research evidence are diverse and include:
  • psychobiological studies of the effect of neglect on the brain, or of how childhood maltreatment can cause physiological changes
  • psychological studies of inter- and intrafamilial risk and protective factors
  • psychosocial studies of the mediating and moderating factors that influence outcomes
  • qualitative investigations of victims’ and perpetrators’ perspectives
  • public health approaches to prevention programmes
  • organizational studies that help us to understand when and why systems are not working together
  • systems analyses designed to identify training needs for practitioners and help them learn how to listen to the experience of service users.
Helga Sneddon

10. Child protection social work in practice

This chapter raises issues about the nature of social work in child protection arenas through the description and discussion of four case scenarios. Each scenario deals with a different form of potential or actual harm to a child or children. I frame the scenarios in terms of harm rather than abuse because the idea of ‘harm’ relates to the experience of the child whereas ‘abuse’ focuses on the actions of the adult. This tension between the needs and experiences of children and the risk posed by adults forms the central debate in children and families social work practice today. They aren’t mutually exclusive but ensuring a healthy balance between the two is the key to effective, safe and sensitive practice.
Joe Smeeton

Social Work in the Field of Adoption and Fostering


11. Adoption: from the preservation of the moral order to the needs of the child

Adoption as a policy issue attracts the most intense public interest. There could not be a more emotive image than that of a child abandoned, abused or neglected by their parents and in need of a family who will love them and commit themselves for ever. There could not be a more powerful need than identifying the characteristics of parents who deserve or are able to ‘properly’ parent children in need of adoption. There could not be more ambivalence expressed about the circumstances and characteristics of, primarily, women who give up, or are forced to give up, their children for adoption. And lastly, there are the views and experiences of those affected by adoption, adults primarily but children certainly, often expressed through the experience of search and reunion. Adoption policy is not therefore some remote concern of central or local government bureaucrats but an issue that brings together the most basic of human concerns — children, parenting and the family and our attitudes towards these. It also raises a question about the role of the state in influencing and determining what should happen when a parent is unable to care for their child: To what extent is it a proper concern for the state when family life is usually recognized as something that is fundamentally a private matter?
John Simmonds

12. Legal perspectives on social work in adoption and fostering

If, for whatever reason, a child cannot live with their own family, either temporarily or on a long-term basis, placement in another family rather than an institution has, since the seminal child care reforming statute, the Children Act 1948, been the preferred option. Fostering and adoption feature on a placement spectrum, ranging from the short-term provision of local authority accommodation in an emergency to securing an adoption order, which irrevocably and for life severs the legal link between the child and their birth family and vests all parental rights, duties and responsibilities in the adoptive family. Between the two extremes are other legally disparate arrangements that may better meet the individual needs of children and young people seeking the security of a permanent placement away from their birth family. The spectrum includes:
  • foster care: accommodation for children ‘in need’
  • private fostering
  • foster care under a care order
  • residence orders
  • special guardianship
  • adoption.
Caroline Ball

13. Two theoretical fields relevant to social work practice in adoption and fostering

Adoption and fostering is an area of social work that is fraught with ethical dilemmas and has seen great changes over the past three decades. It is crucial, therefore, that the knowledge base (both the theory and empirical evidence) guiding legal decisions, social policy and professional practices relating to adoption and fostering is explicit, open to debate and keeps pace with people’s experiences. In this chapter, I outline two key theories of importance to adoption and fostering law, policy and practice: attachment theory; and the social construction of family relationships.
Christine Jones

14. Milestones in adoption and fostering research

Many of the developmental milestones that have shaped social work thinking and practice in adoption and fostering have been derived from small-scale qualitative studies, tentative explorations or have been ‘magpied’ from disciplines such as psychology. As will be seen, in true social work eclectic manner, autobiography and fiction have been gathered in for inclusion in this chapter. ‘Research’ has thus been defined broadly in order to capture all the creativities that have gone into works that constitute significant contributions to the development of good practice in adoption and fostering.
Gary Clapton

15. Adoption and fostering in practice

This chapter introduces and discusses four practice examples that represent real-life episodes and reflections from the life stories of young adults who were adopted or lived in foster care. These accounts were generously shared with us in two recent life history research projects. These real-life (anonymized) examples give a vivid sense of the challenges, achievements and complexities of working constructively with children and young people who are adopted or looked after in foster care. Because they are real, they are not simple stories with neat endings, but they do raise important issues regarding family and professional relationships, culture, ‘race’, and responding in a critical and reflective manner.
Sally Holland, Cecilia Love

Residential Child Care


16. Residential child care policy

This chapter begins by reviewing the history of residential child care in England and Wales and seeks to explain how social concepts have shaped our thinking and become enshrined in legislation. We move from the Poor Law, through Victorian refinements, to consider a range of policy influences in the twentieth century.
Jonathan Stanley

17. Residential child care: the legal foundations and requirements

This chapter examines the legal duties and powers that residential workers, social workers and local authorities have in respect of children placed in residential child care. It also considers the legal rights that children and young people in residential child care have.1
Robin Sen

18. Theory in residential child care

Residential child care is described as ‘a physical setting in which children and young people are offered care — physical nurturing, social learning opportunities, the promotion of health and wellbeing and specialized behaviour training’ (Fulcher, 2001, p. 418). Steckley and Smith (2011) argue that moral and relational considerations are also central to any notion of care. Theoretical frameworks that might cast some light on the nature and aims of residential child care need to reflect all these dimensions.
Mark Smith

19. What research tells us about residential child care

The role of residential child care in the UK and around the world is much contested. Over many years, there has been a continuing ambiguity about its place in the continuum of child care services, and this manifests itself in social work policy and practice. This has been driven by evidence of abuse and neglect of children and young people in residential care, the issue of the poor outcomes of children and young people who leave the care system, questions about the effectiveness of residential child care, and the focus on the family as the placement of choice.
Andrew Kendrick

20. Residential child care in practice

Residential child care shares some characteristics with other types of social work but is also unique in that ‘staff witness and at times are part of other people’s lives. They will see residents as they live their lives: getting up, bathing and eating; relaxing and busy; happy and sad; angry, confused or excited’ (Whitaker et al., 1998, p. 25). The nature of the task itself is complex as the worker fulfils a range of roles within the group care setting.
Janine Bolger, Jeremy Millar
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