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About this book

Traditional ways of working with children and young people are giving way to new practices. Where practice solutions previously tended to be imposed on children and young people, professionals are now looking to engage them as vital partners in actively negotiated and co-constructed models of working.

Combining social ecological and social constructionist perspectives drawn from a range of academic and practice disciplines, Working with Children and Young People explores and interrogates how ideas about childhood, policy and professional discourses change over time and, in turn, affect the issues faced by young people and their families. In particular, this important text:

develops a critical and reflective approach to knowledge and practice explored vividly across a wide range of practice settings presents a new vision, where the focus is centrally on the child or young person and where dominant ideas are challenged explores how key concerns, such as professional power and children's rights, embed themselves in working relationships.

Working with Children and Young People provides an innovative critical framework for all students on vocational and professional courses involving work with children and young people. It also offers illuminating reading for practitioners working with the 0–18 age group, whether in the statutory, voluntary or private sectors.

Table of Contents



In this book we examine working with children and young people within a changing landscape of practice, policy and public opinion. Many of the profound changes in the organisation and focus of the children’s workforce in the UK can be linked to wider political, social, cultural and economic changes. Since the 1970s, globalisation has led to greater mobility of capital and populations between communities and nations, and the process of individualisation, started in the 1960s, has evolved and interrelated with the later emergent emphasis on consumption and choice (Parton, 2006). As a result, in the early twenty-first century, practice with children and young people operates within a context of changing family structures and networks of support, a mixed economy (involving state, private and third sector agencies) of health, social care and education, and intense media scrutiny. There have been political and policy changes including a divergence of practice approaches and frameworks across the four UK nations, greater government regulation of services and the reorganisation of the children’s workforce in pursuit of a wide range of economic, health and social goals. There has also been a shift in emphasis in children’s services, policy and research towards partnership working with children and young people rather than imposing practice solutions on them. In part this has been the result of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has also been influential in exposing and changing government policy on children’s rights (for example in 2008, the UK government finally extended the ‘best interest’ rule to immigrant children), although criticisms are still levelled at the UK’s record on corporal punishment (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2008).
Lindsay O’Dell, Stephen Leverett

Constructing and deconstructing practice


1. Wellbeing and the ecology of children’s lives

It has become increasingly accepted that children’s development and wellbeing are influenced by a wide range of factors in the environment in which they live. This social ecological perspective proposes that a child’s genetic make-up and individual characteristics interact with their immediate network but also with influences deriving from factors as diverse as their family’s economic resources, the nature of community in which they live, and even what they encounter on television and the internet, in fact, features of a whole array of broad economic, social and cultural factors. As outlined in the Introduction to this book, this perspective is most frequently described by a number of concentric circles representing layers of influence, drawing on Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) model of child development. Although these ‘layers’ are helpful to grasp the concept, their reality is complex, with interactions between the layers and some factors in a layer being more influential than others. It might also suggest that factors in the outer layers have only a peripheral impact, whereas, although family factors are likely to be the most influential, broad social influences — ‘forces emanating from more remote regions in the larger physical and social milieu’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 13) — can also reach deep into the centrality of children’s lives and have a significant effect on their wellbeing. This chapter will use this perspective to explore some examples of these ‘forces’ to illustrate the debates around them and their effects.
Andy Rixon

2. Constructions of normative families

In this chapter I use a social constructionist and a social ecological perspective to argue that understandings of ‘normative’ families, within which children and young people develop, shift through time and across different contexts. Ideas about what constitutes families are given to us in a variety of ways such as through legislation, policy, social science (including psychology) and through popular culture and cultural practices. How we construct families and children has an impact on the design of services and ways of working. I will argue that practice is constructed through understandings of families, how families are viewed and what roles and functions families perform. In this chapter I use the terminology of ‘normative’ and ‘non-normative’ purposefully to examine assumptions at play in understanding what are seen as ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ families. It is argued that by assuming an ideal or normative form, families that are in some way different from this norm will be judged as deviant and failing. In this chapter, three key areas are discussed: what constitutes a normative family and how other families are different; understandings of non-normative families; and the implications of these other issues for practice.
Lindsay O’Dell

3. The surveillance of children, young people and families

This chapter explores the ways in which some children and young people, their families and even entire communities are surveilled, considered socially problematic and made the subjects of intervention by welfare, health, crime prevention and other agencies. It considers how, and why, this happens, and explores what it might mean for practitioners (who are themselves subjected to scrutiny by others) working with children and their families. As a social scientist with a public health research background, my interest in surveillance grew out of my research on a highly scrutinised social group and the target of a number of social and healthcare interventions: pregnant and parenting teenagers and their children.
Lisa Arai

4. Public policy, children and young people

The focus of this chapter is children and social policy as it is played out at the meeting point of policies, children, young people and their families. It also looks at the roles of some key catalysts, notably the media. Choices, enacted through social policy, remain under the control of individual national governments, despite being subject to global influences and some EU treaties (http://​www.​europa.​eu/​index_​en.​htm). Tradition, culture and values coalesce to create different responses to similar developments across Europe (Cohen et al., 2004). There is also an increasing divergence in different parts of the UK. Internal UK governments are increasingly able to create their own particular set of social policies and to make decisions. While it is unlikely to be formally announced, incremental changes now underway could result in an increasingly hybrid welfare system evolving in different parts of the UK. Policies affect the lives of children and young people; recently these have involved such developments as the significant expansion of early years education, a greater measurement of outcomes and attainment in schools, moves towards the integration of children’s services and the increasing cost of higher education. Decisions about welfare and education lead to differences in services, in the workforce, and in those underlying concepts and understandings of children, young people and families with which services and workers work.
Pam Foley

Co-constructing practice with children, young people and families


5. Disabled children, their parents and their experiences with practitioners

This chapter focuses on the experiences of disabled children and their parents/carers. Our aim is to explore different understandings of disability, disablism (discrimination against disabled people) and ableism (societal preference for the ambitions of non-disabled people rather than disabled people) and to consider how these are constructed and experienced by children, parents/carers and practitioners in early childhood. We start by outlining a number of theoretical approaches that have influenced our exploration of parenting and childhood as part of our ongoing research project (Goodley and Runswick-Cole, 2010). We then briefly explain our study before introducing pen portraits of two mothers. Using the mothers’ narratives as a guide, we explore the co-construction of disablism and ableism and consider how parents, in particular, confront these two forces in the context of ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ parents’ support groups.
Dan Goodley, Katherine Runswick-Cole

6. Counselling children: values and practice

I am a child therapist who has worked within primary schools for a charity organisation offering school-based counselling. In this situation, children were usually referred by their teachers, who were concerned by the child’s behaviour within the school, or about events at home and the potential impact of these on the child. I currently work privately in a therapeutic centre where the majority of referrals are made by parents and, occasionally, social services. I work with individuals rather than groups or families, and so the focus of my work is the internal world of the individual child. This is in the tradition of therapeutic intervention that uses individually focused models of counselling and psychotherapy. However, it is important to consider that every child is located in a specific cultural and historic context and is part of a unique social and family environment, all of which contribute to a child’s behaviour and experience (Swenson and Chaffin, 2006). Increasingly, perspectives such as social constructionism or social ecology are informing practice with children.
Alison Davies

7. Young people and mental health: resilience and models of practice

Young people’s mental health is a subject that has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years in the media, in policy and in the public imagination.
Wook Hamilton

8. Domestic abuse and safeguarding children

Children’s wellbeing needs to be positively fostered if they are to have happy and enjoyable childhoods. If children are to develop into well-balanced and healthy adults, they also need to be kept safe from a variety of possible threats to their welfare, such as those caused by structural factors like poverty and poor housing, as well as family-level factors such as neglect, exposure to a carer’s substance misuse or physical, emotional or sexual abuse. One way in which children can be harmed is through exposure to domestic abuse. Children’s exposure to domestic abuse has come to be regarded as a serious threat to their welfare and is now treated as a safeguarding issue in the UK and many other countries (Edleson et al., 2006; Humphreys and Stanley, 2006). Exploring this change in policy and practice is the focus of this chapter. I come to this issue as a social scientist with a public health research background whose work has been focused primarily on the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
Lisa Arai

9. Sons and daughters of foster carers: invisible, vulnerable or valued?

This chapter has been written from the perspectives of Gail, who worked as a foster carer in a household with her two young sons, between 2001 and 2008, and Peter who has worked as a social worker, manager and lecturer for over 30 years and has been a foster carer for a local authority since 2008. The chapter is about some of the different ways in which the sons and daughters of foster carers are constructed through the frameworks of research, policy and practice. The term ‘sons and daughters’ will be used throughout this chapter in reference to dependent children in a household that fosters children from the Looked After system. These could include birth, adopted, otherwise related or stepchildren as well as children under special guardianship.
Gail Jackson, Peter Unwin

10. The social construction of home and school learning in multicultural communities

Formal schooling takes up a major part of a child’s everyday life and, second only to the home community, is a major socialising agent. This chapter will argue that formal schooling socially organises children in particular ways and that in culturally diverse settings, schools can operate to distance children from the varied values and identities of their home cultures to one which reflects the opinions of the wider society (Valsiner, 2005). My interest in this topic stems from my work as a developmental and cultural psychologist and focuses particularly on home and school mathematics learning in multicultural communities. Formal schooling is such a taken-for-granted activity within many societies that questions around what school means, outside those who focus on critical pedagogy, are rarely posed. What is education and who decides what children should or should not learn? How do we decide what are the best or appropriate forms of knowledge? What happens when knowledge developed for formal schooling is sent into culturally diverse home settings?
Sarah Crafter

11. Children’s welfare and children’s rights

Traditionally, children, as minors in law, have had neither full autonomy nor the right to make choices or decisions on their own behalf. Instead, responsibility for such decisions and for the welfare of children has been vested with those adults who care for them. It has always been presumed not only that adults are better placed than children to exercise responsibility for decision making, but also that in so doing they will act in children’s best interests. This presumption has also been established as a legal obligation in the courts, which for many years have been required to give paramountcy to the welfare of the child in making decisions concerning their day-to-day lives (Children Act 1989, s.1). It does require that children’s wishes and feelings are given consideration, but as a model of adult/child relationships, it does construct children as the passive recipients of adult protection and goodwill, lacking the competence to exercise responsibility for their own lives. However, over the past 20 years, we have witnessed a growing body of evidence concerning children’s lives that challenges any capacity for complacency that children’s welfare is being adequately protected by adults. This leads to a need to re-examine the assumptions underpinning adult responsibilities towards children:
that adults can be relied on to act in children’s best interests
that children lack the competence to act as agents in their own lives
that adults have the monopoly of expertise in determining outcomes in children’s lives.
Gerison Lansdown

12. Between the rocks and hard places: young people negotiating fear and criminalisation

As a critical criminologist I have been researching youth and criminalisation for many years and New Labour’s ‘anti-social behaviour’ agenda was of particular interest, especially when this began to merge with growing concerns about youth violence, weapon use and gangs. During the summer of 2009, the 10-year anniversary of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) (introduced by Section 1 of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, available to the courts from 1999) was reached in England and Wales, prompting questions about how effective this controversial measure had been.
Peter Squires

13. Constructing practice within the parenting agenda: the case of Sure Start and Parenting Orders

This chapter outlines the different ways in which ‘parenting practices’ are constructed by structures, institutions, families and individuals in contemporary Britain. It begins by briefly outlining the ways in which the ‘parenting agenda’ has been at the heart of social policy developments in the early twenty-first century. This chapter then examines two particular high-profile parenting initiatives — Sure Start and Parenting Orders — and explores some of the ways in which service user experiences are shaped by particular discursive constructions and material realities. The chapter concludes by suggesting what could be done to challenge some of the more unhelpful practices that serve to reconfigure children and families in particular ways.
Amanda Holt

14. Forest School

Borradaile (2006, p. 16) describes Forest School as a
useful tool that can be used to achieve many outcomes, relating to inclusive lifelong learning — knowledge and understanding, skills, and values and dispositions — in a different, stimulating, enjoyable, healthy and experiential way. The secret of its success is in the synergy between the physical woodland setting and the presentation and ethos behind the activities — the sum is more than the parts.
In this chapter I examine the extent to which Forest School contests or reproduces dominant constructions of learning and of childhood within the UK. My interest in Forest School has grown out of research into classroom practice and use of the outdoor learning environment in my role as a senior lecturer in education.
Tracy Kelly-Freer
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