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About this book

This book offers a clear and coherent guide to working with families for practitioners and students in social work, health, counselling and related professions. It brings together recent thinking on the historical and contemporary constructions of the family in such a way as to provide a helpful framework for practitioners working in a variety of settings in the field. It offers up-to-date information on political, legislative and theoretical frameworks, and it reviews and illustrates a wide range of approaches and practice skills for working with families with different problems in different contexts.

Table of Contents



The idea for this book came from our recognition, as teachers and researchers in the field of social care, of the range of situations in which practitioners become involved in working with families, and the substantial developments which have taken place in this work in the last decade. Equally, we were conscious that despite specialist books on particular methods of intervention (approaches to family therapy being the most obvious) we lacked a book which would bring together policy and practice accounts of these different approaches and place them within a framework of developments in contemporary family policy. The present edited book is an attempt to fill this gap.
Margaret Bell, Kate Wilson

The Social, Political and Welfare Context for Working with Families


1. New Labour and Family Policy

Labour became the first government in the UK ever to set out an explicit family policy. Their aspirations and plans were contained within a 1998 discussion document Supporting Families (Home Office, 1998). However, some of the plans were already launched or under consultation (FPSC, 1999; Fox-Harding, 2000) and, overall, a coherent approach to family policy was not presented. Rather, the strength of the document lay in its demonstration that family policy is a new and important agenda for Labour. What has followed is a series of cross-cutting initiatives directed at families with children and an explicit commitment made in 1999 to eradicate child poverty.
Christine Skinner

2. Families, Social Change and Diversity

This chapter, alongside the previous one by Christine Skinner, aims to provide a wider context for the remainder of the book. Skinner has already outlined the current policy context in which social workers are operating, and we situate these developments in some competing theoretical explanations about the ‘changes’ occurring in contemporary UK households. We also aim to complement the policy perspective by locating developments in the context of family and demographic change.
Nick Frost, Brid Featherstone

Theoretical and Practice Approaches to Working with Families


3. Assessing Families: The Family Assessment of Family Competence, Strengths and Difficulties

The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DoH, 2000a) (the Assessment Framework) emphasises the importance of systematic and comprehensive assessments of children and their families as a basis for effective planning and provision for children in need. Parenting capacity and family history and family functioning are seen to form major elements of the context in which a child’s developmental needs are responded to. It is therefore important to have an effective way of assessing family life and relationships and their contribution to meeting the needs of children.
Liza Bingley Miller, Arnon Bentovim

4. Using Extended attachment theory as an evidence-based guide when working with families

The title of this chapter immediately raises questions: why, and how, has attachment theory been extended; and in what way does one use a theory as a guide. Addressing each of these questions in turn divides the chapter into three sections. The first provides our reasons for extending attachment theory; the second describes the ways in which Bowlby and Ainsworth’s work has been extended, and the third explores some of the ways in which the extended theory can be used in practice.
Dorothy Heard

5. Theme-Focused Family Therapy: Working with the Dynamics of Emotional Abuse and Neglect within an Attachment and Systems Perspective

Theme-focused Family Therapy (TFFT) is a form of therapeutic intervention which addresses the emotional world of traumatised families. It does this by organising the family sessions around a central key theme which focuses on the affective experience of the family members. The work is to enable the family to discuss their emotions, the impact they have as individuals on one another, and the meaning they have for each other.
Una McCluskey

Working with Family Groups in Difficulty


6. Working with Divorcing Partners

Divorce is a fact of life for families in the United Kingdom. While the marriage rate has been falling steadily over the past 20 years, it is predicted that just over four in ten of those who choose to tie the knot nowadays will see their marriage end in divorce. This outcome will affect 28 per cent of all children by their sixteenth birthday (FPSC, 2000). These figures do not include the increasing frequency with which cohabiting relationships are entered into and exited from, and which can have effects on family members that may be indistinguishable from those triggered by divorce. While this chapter addresses some implications of marriage ending, it is important to keep in mind other transient relationships that have not involved a formal legal commitment.
Christopher Clulow, Christopher Vincent

7. Working with Family Change: Repartnering and Stepfamily Life

Professionals working with families at any stage of their life-cycle are likely to find that an understanding of stepfamily issues helps them in their practice. The feelings aroused and the tensions and strains experienced in step-families are not confined to those raising children, as many adults who have experienced parents repartnering in later life will know. There are important issues to be addressed in relation to stepfamilies of all ages and at different points in their life-cycle; for example, stepfamily obligations in caring for elderly relatives in the extended kinship networks (Bornat et al., 1999). However, an understanding of such issues is of particular value to all of us working with children and families in the field of social care since we are bound sometimes to work with stepfamily members. Even if the crux of a problem or difficulty is not centred on a stepfamily issue, an understanding of the particular stresses and strengths of stepfamilies will positively inform our practice.
Jane Batchelor

8. Working with Families where there are Child Protection Concerns

Childcare policies since the late 1990s have been directed towards mitigating the consequences of poverty, particularly child poverty, and childcare professionals are expected to participate in the ‘major strategies to tackle the root causes of poverty and social exclusion, (DoH, DfEE, HO, 2000: 1 par. 1.1). Professionals working with children and their families where there are child protection concerns are required to assess a child’s needs from a holistic perspective, and consider the impact of poverty, recast as social exclusion, as a factor undermining parenting capacity (ibid., 2000). Current child protection policy and practice has been heavily influenced by research studies showing the correlation between poverty and concern about child maltreatment as significant numbers of poor families were found to have been involved in formal child protection investigations leading to no futher action (DoH, 1995). The message to childcare professionals was that the ‘child rescue’ approach, which dominated child protection activity in the 1980s and early 1990s, left many vulnerable children and their families without any services at all. This approach, it was suggested, focused on investigating the family care of children, considered ‘at risk’ to determine if the legal test of ‘significant harm’ (Part IV Children Act 1989 s.31(2)) had been met, to the exclusion of any other needs the child or family might have (DoH, 1995).
Stephanie Petrie

9. Working with Families where there is Domestic Violence

Practitioners from all the helping professions — housing, refuges, education, health, social services, court welfare, police, criminal justice — come into contact with families who have experienced domestic violence. However, because of the secrecy and fear that silences families who are experiencing violent behaviour at home its existence often goes unrecognised. There are many reasons for this. Accounts by professionals (Bell, 1996) and by women themselves suggest that mothers do not disclose it because they fear retribution. Many are afraid of being judged incompetent as parents and of having their children removed if they approach statutory agencies. It is probable that women from Asian communities in the United Kingdom experience even greater family and social pressures to maintain silence, pressures exacerbated by problems of language or ignorance of available services, and by racism (Adams, 1998 ). Male partners avoid discussion or minimise violent events — often by blaming alcohol (Ptacek, 1988), while children use a range of strategies to avoid discussing it (Mullender, 1996). Research also provides evidence of a reluctance on the part of professionals to see domestic violence. In perusing social work files, Milner (1996) found that social workers failed to record the existence of violence or to mention it in meetings, often referring to it in gender-neutral terms, where it was reframed as marital conflict or fighting.
Margaret Bell

10. Working with Families who Neglect their Children

Current knowledge relating to child neglect points to the existence of a rather absurd paradox. On the one hand, child neglect has consistently been shown to have a markedly higher incidence rate than either physical or sexual abuse, and furthermore has been found to result in more profound developmental deficit than other forms of child maltreatment. On the other hand, however, child neglect is the most understudied and consequently the least understood type of child maltreatment. Given that so many children experience neglect of one sort or another, and that its outcomes can be profoundly harmful, there is an urgent requirement for practitioners and the decision-making forums to re-evaluate current practices and policies in relation to neglected children.
Dorota Iwaniec

11. Foster Care: Policies and Practice in Working with Foster Families

Foster care refers to a situation in which children and young people live in other people’s families. The majority of foster carers are ordinary families in the community who are recruited, assessed, trained and supported in caring for looked-after children on behalf of the local authority. Most of them have children of their own, either living with them or grown up. A foster placement can be for a single weekend to relieve a family crisis, or may provide a permanent home for a child who cannot be cared for by her/his birth family. It may be undertaken by relatives of the child under an arrangement with the local authority (Waterhouse, 1997, suggests 12 per cent of foster carers are relatives or family friends). The majority of the children fostered have experienced difficult and potentially damaging situations in their own families; many although not all wish nonetheless to return to them or remain at least in contact with them. In their foster families they often lack the sense of ‘entitlement to be there’ which usually characterises members of a family. Foster families therefore both resemble and differ from the families described in most other chapters in this book. This chapter describes the legal, statutory and policy basis for foster care, considers factors which the research suggests may make for successful fostering, and the role of social workers in contributing to this. It concludes with an illustrative case study.
Kate Wilson, Ian Sinclair
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