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Making meaningful connections: using insights from social pedagogy in statutory child and family social work practice: Social pedagogy in statutory social work practice

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Abstract

Reports into incidents of child death and serious injury have highlighted consistently concern about the capacity of social workers to communicate skilfully with children. Drawing on data collected as part of an Economic and Social Research Council funded UK-wide research project exploring social workers' communicative practices with children, this paper explores how approaches informed by social pedagogy can assist social workers in connecting and communicating with with children. The qualitative research included data generated from 82 observations of social workers' everyday encounters with children. Social pedagogical concepts of ‘haltung’ (attitude), ‘head, heart and hands’ and ‘the common third’ are outlined as potentially helpful approaches for facilitating the intimacies of inter-personal connections and enhancing social workers' capacity to establish and sustain meaningful communication and relationships with children in the face of austere social, political and organisational contexts.

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... The literature emphasises the nature of the helping relationships as an explanation for these discrepancies (Barker & Thomson, 2015;Howe, 2010;Ruch et al., 2017). Tilbury and Ramsay (2018) analysed 50 studies assessing parental perspectives on child protection services, and found that the principal influential factors were the attitudes, skills and actions of the SWs in building and maintaining the helping relationships. ...
... Although there is broad agreement regarding the importance of the helping relationship (Barker & Thomson, 2015;Howe, 2010;Ruch et al., 2017), it seems that SWs face specific obstacles in establishing such relationships with families in poverty, in the institutional context of their SSDs. Research has proposed different explanations for these obstacles. ...
... Relationship-based practice has been under threat due to the current dominance of neo-liberal and neo-managerial trends in public service (Cummins, 2018;Jones, 2001). However, in academic social work discourse, this concept has received much attention in recent years, as a basic condition of constructive intervention (Barker & Thomson, 2015;Howe, 2010;Ruch et al., 2017). In line with the literature (Tilbury & Ramsay, 2018), our findings from the qualitative analysis indicate that in order to establish beneficial helping relationships, SWs should support their SUs; recognise their needs; respect them and take an active, resourceful stance. ...
Article
This article uses mixed methods to examine service user satisfaction with social work treatment in social services departments (SSDs) in Israel—its level, the factors that influence it and its experiential dimensions. A total of 235 service users (SUs) from 11 SSDs were interviewed for this study. They were divided into three groups: (a) SUs receiving standard treatment; (b) SUs participating in poverty‐aware programs and (c) SUs receiving a poverty‐aware standard treatment. The quantitative findings indicated a significant higher level of satisfaction among the SUs who had been included on poverty‐aware programs or received a poverty‐aware standard care compared to SUs who had received standard treatment. Additionally, high reported levels of satisfaction were influenced by the frequency of meetings between the service user and the social worker, while the history of care in the SSD had no apparent impact on satisfaction levels. The qualitative analysis indicated that high levels of satisfaction were linked to the service user perceiving the social worker as active, supportive and respectful, and as responsive to the user's emotional and material needs. These findings are discussed in the context of the Poverty‐Aware Paradigm and relationship‐based social work.
... While a body of work has emerged based on observations of one-off encounters between practitioners and service users as there are going on (Ferguson, 2016a(Ferguson, , 2016bD. Forrester et al., 2019;Henderson, 2018;Noyes, 2018;Ruch et al., 2017;Winter et al., 2017), our research broke new ground by being the first ethnographic study of long-term practice and relationships. ...
... With older children such intimacy and emotional connection was achieved through play, encounters in the car, cafes, on computers and digital media. This is supported by Ruch et al.'s (2017) observational study of social worker's interactions with children which also found that practice needs to be understood in terms of how it incorporates the head, heart and hands. ...
Article
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Relationship-based practice has become an influential theory through which social work practice is understood. However, much more critical attention needs to be given to the kinds of relationships involved. This paper is based on an ethnographic study of long-term social work that spent 15 months observing practice with service users and organisational life to find out how social workers establish and sustain long-term relationships with children and parents in child protection cases, or don’t. The paper introduces into the literature the concept of a ‘holding relationship’, which was present in several of the cases we studied, especially where therapeutic change occurred. The aims of the paper are to document the nature of a holding relationship and to develop it as a concept. A ‘holding relationship’ involved social workers being reliable, immersing themselves in the service user’s day-to-day existence and developing their life-skills, getting physically and emotionally close to them, and practicing critically by taking account of power and inequalities. The concept of a ‘holding relationship’ draws on psycho-dynamic and sociological theory to provide new ways of thinking that can help make sense of the practical and emotional relating involved in social work and promote the development of such helpful relationships.
... A further example of empirical research about direct practice with families was provided by Ruch and colleagues, who recently completed a project on direct work with children (Winter et al., 2016;Ruch et al., 2017). This study-like Ferguson-identified the complexity of 'direct work' with children, both in the way in which space and time for it needs to be negotiated with families and, crucially, the composite reasons for such work. ...
... We cannot know what the impact of observation might be on practice. There are many descriptions of impacts from qualitative research (Ferguson, 2011;Ruch et al., 2017), but it is not clear what the impact might be on the type of analysis described here. ...
... To date, research exploring direct social work practice and, in particular, the home visit has tended to use qualitative methods to analyse naturally occurring data. The talking and listening to children project practice in this context (Ruch et al., 2017;Winter et al., 2016). Hall, Juhila, Matarese, and van Nijnatten (2014) and Hall and Slembrouck (2009)) have drawn upon studies of interaction in sociolinguistics and discourse analysis to produce detailed analyses of the use of language in social work practice conversations, in the United Kingdom and other European countries. ...
... In producing detailed qualitative description and analysis of naturally occurring data, the research discussed above has been crucial in illuminating the complex task of social work, including how aspects of the role that are seemingly at odds with each other play out in practice (Ferguson, 2011;Hall et al., 2014;Ruch et al., 2017). The current study employs quantitative methods and uses a different sampling and analytic strategy, aiming to complement these qualitative studies by exploring the relationships between social work skills within a comparatively large data set. ...
Article
There is relatively little research on the communication skills that social workers use in direct practice with families. This study explores patterns of practice skill found in child and family social work home visits. The study analysed 127 practice interactions in family homes, coding for seven dimensions of worker skill using a coding framework drawn from motivational interviewing. Exploratory factor analysis was employed to establish patterns of skill within the data and to group key dimensions of skill. The findings make two contributions. First, three fundamental dimensions of good practice emerged, which we characterize as care and engagement, good authority, and support for behaviour change. Second, in exploring the relationship between “care” and “control” elements of social work, skilled social workers were able to combine good authority and empathic engagement, whereas those who were less skilled in use of authority were also less good at engagement. This contributes to debates about care and control in social work. The usefulness of these dimensions for conceptualizing practice in child and family social work is discussed and directions for further research are suggested.
... It was indeed the over-emphasis on risk also seen in England that led to the review of child protection triggered by the Baby P case (Munro 2011). This created a re-emphasis on relationships in child protection practice as a means of ensuring that where there is the need for regulation and risk management this is done in a way that emphasizes the importance and centrality of doing so through relationships (Ruch et al. 2017;Ferguson et al. 2020). A stronger emphasis on relationships, and attachment in particular, emerged also in Ireland after the Roscommon Child Abuse Inquiry (Gibbons 2010) which found that observations of disorganized attachment were mistaken as strong attachment. ...
... Micro interactions encompass a range of intrinsic (e.g., mental health and wellbeing, personality, attachment, trauma) and extrinsic (personality, relationships, home, siblings) dimensions connecting strongly with the surrounding meso level-the inner circle of micro relations. Awareness of the nature of family relations within and between individuals and cultures is crucial here to maximize the potential for close partnership working with families appropriate to the specific cultural contexts of engagement (Ruch et al. 2017). Meso interactions can include both informal/natural relations (within family, friends, extended family, local community worker) and formal individual relations (e.g., with school teacher, resource worker, individual social worker(s), police, solicitors). ...
Article
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In this article, our intention is to provide an in-depth framework to inform the management of the inevitable complexity of day-today practice and supervision in child protection and welfare. It is based on what is now well evidenced about child protection and welfare literature in relation to risk, relationships, family support, supervision, and professional development. Using Ireland as a case example for illustration and application, we introduce an emerging framework based on a dualism of 'protective support and supportive protection' developed in previous work. We avail of Bronfenbrenner's bio-ecological framework and network theories to progress this ongoing 'work in progress' to inform social work and social care practice and supervision in a global context as and where appropriate. We emphasize the importance of context specific approaches, the relevance of range of actors, practitioner and supervisor expertise through experience, and proactive partnership based engagement with children, families, and relevant communities in all aspects of service delivery, including evaluation. We reflect on the challenges and possible obstacles to how such a framework can inform practice and supervision. We argue that practitioners can best activate and apply the framework using a practice research approach.
... A further example of empirical research about direct practice with families was provided by Ruch and colleagues, who recently completed a project on direct work with children (Winter et al., 2016;Ruch et al., 2017). This study-like Ferguson-identified the complexity of 'direct work' with children, both in the way in which space and time for it needs to be negotiated with families and, crucially, the composite reasons for such work. ...
... We cannot know what the impact of observation might be on practice. There are many descriptions of impacts from qualitative research (Ferguson, 2011;Ruch et al., 2017), but it is not clear what the impact might be on the type of analysis described here. ...
Article
Full-text available
Communication skills are fundamental to social work, yet few studies have directly evaluated their impact. In this study, we explore the relationship between skills and outcomes in 127 families. An observation of practice was undertaken on the second or third meeting with a family. Practice quality was evaluated in relation to seven skills, which were grouped into three dimensions: relationship building, good authority and evocation of intrinsic motivation. Outcomes at approximately six months were parent-reported engagement (Working Alliance Inventory), Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS), an eleven-point family life satisfaction rating, the Family Environment Scale and General Health Questionnaire and service outcomes from agency records including children entering care. Relationship-building skills predicted parent-reported engagement, although good authority and evocation had stronger relationships with outcome measures. Where workers visited families more often, relationships between skills and outcomes were stronger, in part because workers had more involvement and in part because these families were more likely to have significant problems. The relationship between skills and outcomes was complicated, although the findings provide encouraging evidence that key social work skills have an influence on outcomes for families.
... Children and young people are entitled to respect as morally responsible persons and the bearers of rights, additionally children deserve esteem as people with talents and capabilities, who contribute to society and culture in a variety of ways (Lundy, 2007;Thomas, 2012). A dilemma, which has been in social work practice are the attitudes of social workers to recognize these attributes and rights of children to help build effective working relationships with those involved in social work services (Morrison et al., 2019;Ruch et al., 2017;Winter, 2009Winter, , 2015. Further, young people who experience respect, care and support from their social worker often see themselves as being partners in decision-making. ...
Article
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Children's participation in decision‐making remains a key focus of social work practice. Yet the protection and participation of children in our society remains a setting of tension for children, families and practitioners. Drawing on evidence from a retrospective qualitative study on Family Group Conferencing, this paper uses the lens of recognition theory to highlight the experiences of young people more broadly in the social work system. The study found social workers' attitudes affected children and young people's capacity to be ‘partners’ in decision‐making. Feelings of misrecognition can create barriers for how children and young people perceive and interact with social work professionals. While small, this study sheds light on the experiences of young people's struggles for recognition when involved in the social work system. Further research is needed on this topic to fully understand the implications of (mis)recognition in social work practice.
... This method produced insights into how and where children, parents and other carers were related to and into visits in which social workers were observed not relating to children at all (Ferguson, 2017). Ruch et al. (2017) and Winter et al. (2017) researched eight social work teams at four sites and accompanied social workers at eighty-two encounters with children, 57 per cent of them in the home and 24 per cent at schools, observing and taking notes of the encounter, but not audio recording. Their findings 'indicate that given the complex, contingent and context-specific nature of communicative encounters, it is impossible to create a definitive list of factors that facilitate communication' (Winter et al., 2017, p. 13). ...
Article
Research into social work and child protection has begun to observe practice to find out what social workers actually do, however, no such ethnographic research has been done into long-term practice. This article outlines and analyses the methods used in a study of long-term social work and child protection practice. Researchers spent fifteen months embedded in two social work departments observing organisa-tional practices, culture and staff supervision. We also regularly observed social work-er's encounters with children and families in a sample of thirty cases for up to a year, doing up to twenty-one observations of practice in the same cases. Family members www.basw.co.uk were also interviewed up to 3 times during that time. This article argues that a methodology that gets as close as possible to practitioners and managers as they are doing the work and that takes a longitudinal approach can provide deep insights into what social work practice is, how helpful relationships with service users are established and sustained over time, or not, and the influence of organisations. The challenges and ethical dilemmas involved in doing long-term research that gets so close to social work teams, casework and service users for up to a year are considered.
... There is therefore a need to ensure that decisions made about individual children are fair, proportionate and consistent. This requires that professionals are in agreement about the theoretical and research bases that should inform such decisions, and that there is a consistent approach to the gathering and interpretation of evidence in order to arrive at decisions that uphold the legal principle of being in the best interests on this child at this time, and promote empowering practice (Ruch et al. 2017). As such frameworks, such as the one described in this article, have the potential to strengthen decision making and give proper effect to the law. ...
Article
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While the principle of contact between children in care and their families is enshrined in law, the precise form and frequency is at the discretion of social workers and the courts. Professionals must seek to balance the twin principles of children’s need for protection from the psychological, emotional and physical harm that may arise from having contact with parents and other family members, with the need of family members and children to have their relationships and identity promoted. Courts require clear, structured and unambiguous information about the needs of children and their parents in order to make decisions which will have potentially life-changing implications for families. In this article we explore one approach to supporting the decision making of legal and social work professionals in relation to the frequency and form of contact by reflecting upon the development by the first author of an approach to assessing the quality and benefits of contact for children in State care in Northern Ireland. We discuss the key principles that should inform decisions and good practice through reflecting on the learning gained from developing and implementing such a structured approach. We conclude that practice has been informed by promoting legal rights without sufficient consideration of the relational aspects of making contact work for each of the involved parties.
... Making good use of time seems to be particularly important. In regard to partnerships with children, activities and games have been proven to create good relationships in the context of child welfare (H. A. Hansen, 2009;Ruch et al., 2017). ...
Article
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In the context of Child Welfare, collaboration is used to ensure that families receive the best public services. In these working processes children have the legal right to participate. Research has demonstrated that children are sensitive to whether they feel they are treated with respect. The issue of partnership relations can be demanding. This article examines children’s experiences with recognition in the context of service collaboration. Based on a Norwegian qualitative research project about professional-child interactions in the context of public services and a narrative analysis of two accounts, we have identified key professional actions associated with recognition in collaborative processes with children. A dialogical form of communication, as well as the exploration of children’s troubles, abilities and skills, highlighted the children’s experiences of recognition and respect. Further research should concentrate on how to ensure that recognition occurs during communication with children in Child Welfare Services.
... Whether statutory social work is the right place to locate a more radical social pedagogy is itself debatable. A possible alternative is presented by Ruch et al. (2017) who proposed the need for statutory child protection social workers to learn and integrate a social pedagogic approach towards their routine practices in protecting vulnerable children. Adopting the relational and attitudinal qualities that are considered a standard feature of social pedagogy, which are often thought lacking in many social work training programmes, could be a useful shift in focus. ...
Article
The aim of this article is to show how the theory and philosophy of the person-centred experiential approach, originally developed by the psychologist Carl Rogers, can usefully inform the development of professional practice, educational methods and critical social theory of social pedagogy. Social pedagogy is introduced, followed by a description of philosophical and theoretical underpinnings to the person-centred experiential approach. It is suggested that person-centred experiential theory offers a meta-theoretical basis to social pedagogy. Evidence is provided from the social pedagogy literature to support the proposed fit. It is proposed that a radical form of person-centred experiential therapy is a form of social pedagogic practice, that it is premised on a pedagogical discourse and not a mental illness discourse, and that it addresses personal and structural power, and the dialectical relation between self and society. It is concluded that person-centred experiential theory provides a foundation to social pedagogy as an emerging field of social theory, research and practice.
... This resonated with foster carers' accounts (see section 6.2.4) that positioned this inclusive approach as a positive aspect of the arts-based programme. It could also be linked to developmental discourses, which contend that a reliable 'secure base' can encourage and render safe exploration of the wider world for children and young people (Bowlby 1988 In this way, the arts-based programme could be interpreted as a learning space that incorporates the core tenets of a social pedagogy approach, emphasising the fundamental importance of trusting relationships (Ruch et al. 2017). This is not to say that tensions and conflicts between young people did not exist but, as illustrated in Bella's reflexive diary, these issues were also framed as opportunities for learning and development. ...
Technical Report
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Confidence in Care is a five-year funded programme by The Big Lottery. Led by The Fostering Network Wales, the programme will be delivered in partnership with Action for Children, Barnardo’s and The Adolescent and Children’s Trust. The programme will be independently evaluated by The Children’s Social Research and Development Centre at Cardiff University (CASCADE) and will work closely with Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru and Children in Wales. A strand of this programme aims to provide an engaging and fun experience for foster children that improves their confidence, develops friendships, self-achievement and trust, and involves their siblings and families in this process. In relation to this wider project, the Wales Millennium Centre ran an arts-based programme which was funded and supported by the Confidence in Care Consortium led by The Fostering Network in Wales. The arts-based programme was delivered between May and July 2018 and involved eight care-experienced young people and their foster families. The Wales Millennium Centre commissioned Cardiff University to conduct research with care-experienced young people and their foster carers, and facilitators involved with the delivery of the arts project. The research explored the views of facilitators, young people, and their carers about their experiences of being involved, the possible value and benefits of being engaged with the arts, and the potential barriers to participation with the arts and culture.
... And yet, without understanding what social workers do in practice with families on a routine basis, we risk concealing the very nature of the job (Buckley, 2003, p. 202). In recent years, there has been a growing research interest in the home visit (Forrester, Kershaw, Moss, & Hughes, 2008;Gibson, 2016;Nicholas, 2015;Ruch et al., 2016) and an acknowledgement of how complicated it is for social workers to navigate the physical, emotional and relational contours of private family spaces (Ferguson, 2016;Warner, 2013). ...
Article
The home visit is central to the practice of contemporary child and family social work, yet we know comparatively little about what social workers use them for and how. Descriptions of practice and policies and procedures that overlook the emotional, physical and relational complexity of the home visit will inevitably miss something important about the social work role. More and more researchers are using observational methods to produce descriptions of home visit practices, while the Department for Education has been trialing observations as part of a national accreditation programme in England. Local authorities for many years have been engaged in observations of students and newly-qualified workers. However, none of these developments mean that observing social workers in practice and on a wider scale is straight-forward. This paper describes an attempt to introduce regular observations of social work practice in three inner London local authorities—and discusses how and why this attempt failed. By so doing, we hope to provide helpful lessons for others who may be thinking of using observations of practice more widely within their own authorities or as part of a research project.
... Social pedagogical thinking and practice provides a different framework for thinking through some of these issues. The connections and differences with social work (Cameron, 2013;Hatton, 2013;Charfe and Gardner, 2019;Kemp, 2011;Ruch et al., 2016) offer both encouragement and challenge. This paper is written in recognition of the need for both allies and critical friends towards social professional practice that is creative, humane and meaningful for the people it serves. ...
Article
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The stories and identities of people who use social work services are often obscured by mass media stereotypes and labels – ‘failed asylum seekers’, ‘scroungers’, ‘troubled families’. The influence of managerialism compounds this problem, with space for thinking and feeling continually under pressure. This practice paper draws on ideas from social pedagogy to reflect on the benefits of a creative attempt to connect heads and hearts in the academy. Informed by an approach used with nursing students in Australia, social work undergraduates in London (England) were encouraged to engage with a range of creative media (newspapers, films, television, plays, social media) and journal about what they noticed. Drawing on narrative ideas, students reflected on portrayals of people that were ‘thin’ – labelling and oppressive – and ‘thick’ – revealing a richer picture of people’s lives, needs and capabilities. After putting together short stories or accounts of their own, based on their journaling, students were invited to share these in a type of ‘reflecting team’ with peers. This process invited students to develop critical and ethical perspectives through thinking about what had struck them, what they had understood differently about the service user groups, what resonated with them personally, and how this might affect their practice. This small example of creative practice is considered as part of a wider reflection on the value of a rich curriculum for social work education, holding out hope for humane practice in challenging times.
... Social pedagogical thinking and practice provides a different framework for thinking through some of these issues. The connections and differences with social work (Cameron, 2013;Hatton, 2013;Charfe and Gardner, 2019;Kemp, 2011;Ruch et al., 2016) offer both encouragement and challenge. This paper is written in recognition of the need for both allies and critical friends towards social professional practice that is creative, humane and meaningful for the people it serves. ...
Article
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The utility of social pedagogy as an approach to building resiliency and developing positive relationships with children and youth is currently underdeveloped in North America. However, there are signs of growth in this field. For example, one youth project in British Columbia, Canada, employs relationship building, collaboration and creativity in terms of music- or art-based community interventions as part of its programme. The findings from a recent evaluation report on this youth project will be used to explore the potential for a social pedagogical approach being deployed more widely, and possibly more effectively, than current youth-focused practice. Specifically, the importance of relational practice, underpinned by aspects of attachment theory will be used to explore the utility of social pedagogical practices and examine the possibility of its development within a number of professional contexts.
... CPE can be used in the many formal and informal structures already well placed to facilitate the use of theories of CPE such as school social work, community work and development and youth focused social work, social pedagogy and social education . A citizenship approach, informed by CPE can also be extended to direct individual work and methods to improve relational practices with children and families (Ruch et al., 2017) through embedding use of CPE strategies in day to day practice. Citizenship oriented practice would 'reframe the role and focus of the profession towards social inquiry applied to the rights and needs of citizens' (Harington & Beddoe, 2014;p. ...
Article
This paper argues that attention to theory and practice relating to civic and political engagement (CPE) can lead to a stronger value orientation among social workers towards human rights and social justice when working with marginalised young people. Based on findings of a study based on three European cities (Dublin, Belfast and London), we demonstrate the potential for social work to embrace a specific focus on CPE as a means of achieving greater human rights and social justice for marginalised youth. Speaking specifically to the purpose of social work to promote active social citizenship within the context of social work paradigms, we discuss how a critical consideration of learning from research can be used to advance transformative social work practices. We outline ways CPE strategies can be used with young people, their families and communities to promote partnership and maximise the positive potential of proactive involvement in civic and political matters affecting their own lives. We conclude that CPE could be used more widely, in the context of citizenship based social work, to enhance the potential for transformative human rights and social justice practice with marginalised young people.
... The research takes a 'practice-near' approach to explore the dynamics generated in ordinary, everyday matching practices. Practice-near researchers use a variety of methods to understand practice (see Ferguson, 2010Ferguson, , 2014Lefevre, 2010;Ruch et al., 2017;Winter et al., 2019). For Roy (2017) the aim is to, 'animate the everyday professional experience of social work, through vivid descriptions of the small daily details, rituals, movements and habits of practice which constitute the lived experience of social work and its everyday interactive order' (p. ...
Article
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In England the macro context of adoption practice is characterised by radical change across administrative, political and organisational systems. The adoption regionalisation programme is underpinned by a policy commitment to speed up ‘matching’ processes. The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 states that adoptions should ‘proceed swiftly’ and some agencies are pioneering online and virtual introductions between children and prospective adopters. This paper offers a timely contribution to practice debates and scholarship in this area. Drawing on a collaborative doctoral study, ‘everyday’ practices are considered through an emergent theoretical framework, the ‘liminal hotspot’. The analysis hones in on the transformative practices generated in the early matching stages and the role of the social worker in their mediation and management. This paper supports findings from other studies that suggest that when matches are rushed necessary processing of complex dynamics is by-passed,creating unnecessary vulnerabilities in the fabric of new families.
... Foster carers also built supportive networks with each other during the programme, emphasising the fundamental importance of trusting relationships (Ruch et al., 2017) Foster carers discussed the possibility of self-organising to continue meeting after the project had finished, but also suggested that if a similar project ran in the future, the carers' meetings could be more formally incorporated into the programme by providing a dedicated space for them to spend time together while the sessions were taking place. As with young people, in schools and extracurricular activities foster carers are often seen as or perceive themselves as 'different' from other parents, and the programme offered them an opportunity to share knowledge and experience, and provide mutual support. ...
Article
There is evidence that engagement with the arts can engender transformative effects on young people’s views of themselves and their futures, this can be particularly useful for children and young people in care. This paper draws on a case study of an arts-based programme delivered in Wales, UK. Field observations of the arts-based sessions were conducted, and the participant sample included young people in foster care (n = 8), foster carers (n = 7) and project facilitators (n = 3). The study employed interviews, observations, reflexive diaries, and metaphor work to explore the subjective accounts of these different stakeholders. This provided an insight into their experience of being involved with the arts-based programme, the impacts of this involvement, and what steps they felt could be taken to improve the model. The paper argues that arts and cultural engagement can be transformative in improving the confidence and social connectedness of young people in foster care, but that attention needs to be given to how programmes are delivered. The paper documents the often overlooked mundane, yet important, aspects of planning arts-based programmes, exploring the involvement of foster carers, interpersonal relationships, and the provision of refreshments. It calls for investment in developing carefully designed extracurricular opportunities for young people in care, where they can experience ‘becoming more confident in being themselves’.
Article
This article discusses the implementation of a new creative life story work project within a statutory children’s services department of a UK Local Authority. The project looks to strengthen the use of life story work within statutory children’s social work teams, involving the introduction of a model developed by Professor Richard Rose. Staff training is provided, and creative life story groups with care experienced young people are led jointly by professional artists and children’s social care staff. As a social worker, I support the implementation of the project and offer any additional therapeutic support children attending the groups might need, including more in-depth individual therapeutic life story work. I explore here the dynamic nature of life story work in children’s social work, including a critical analysis of the use of self, and consider theoretical application and wider critiques of the model. I discuss some of the (often contested) literature in relation to trauma, before employing a psychosocial approach that draws on systemic and psychoanalytic theory in order to understand how creative life story work supports individuals and organisations in recovery from trauma and provides the potential to invite bigger questions in relation to how to reignite creativity and social pedagogy in social work practice.
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This article explores the factors that influenced team leader decision-making processes about pathways for duty/intake referrals in one TUSLA region in the Republic of Ireland. It provides an overview of theories relating to decision making focused on systems, risk, relationships and processes. An ecological framework is presented as the conceptual frame. The study was carried out in one region of the Republic of Ireland through a partnership research arrangement between Tusla and the local university social work programme. It involved a quantitative and qualitative research approach. The quantitative phase of the study comprised 15 participants. The qualitative phase of the study consisted of seven respondents. All respondents were duty/intake team leaders. The findings make an important contribution to existing understandings and theories relating to decision making in the Republic of Ireland and internationally. They illustrate that decision-making processes were influenced more by organisational factors than individual factors or macro factors. The discussion considers how this study can critically add to existing international literature relating to decision making at the point of first contact in child protection and welfare. In particular, it shows the value of taking an ecological approach to understanding decision making that can provide for a critical understanding of the complex factors, especially organisational (exo level), that impact on decision making at the front line. It also highlights why a diversity of aspects of decision-making influences are important to consider with a constant focus on the child and family at the centre, in line with current policy and practice perspectives.
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Collaboration and conversations are important in meeting vulnerable children's needs in the context of Child Welfare Services (CWS). Building on 10 qualitative interviews with parents of children in Norwegian Child Welfare Services, this paper discusses parents' views on collaboration between children and child welfare professionals. The parents stated that a constructive collaborative relationship depends on professionals' attitudes towards the child, their ability to connect with the child and their awareness of how the child's emotions and how the parents influence the child–professional relationship. A collaborative relationship is essential for child welfare professionals to meet the child's needs and to help improve relations between the child and the parents. The parents asked for more collaboration between children and child welfare professionals. The findings call for more discussion of child welfare workers' tasks and competence.
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Social work in the United Kingdom is preoccupied with what social workers cannot do due to having limited time to spend with service users. Yet remarkably little research has examined what social workers actually do, especially in long‐term relationships. This paper draws from an ethnographic study of two social work departments in England that spent 15 months observing practice and organizational life. Our findings show that social work some of the time has a significant amount of involvement with some service users and the dominant view that relationship‐based practice is rarely achieved is in need of some revision. However, families at one research site received a much more substantial, reliable overall service due to the additional input of family support workers and having a stable workforce who had their own desks and were co‐located with managers in small team offices. This generated a much more supportive, reflective culture for social workers and service users than at the second site, a large open plan “hot‐desking” office. Drawing on relational, systemic, and complexity theories, the paper shows how the nature of what social workers do and culture of practice are shaped by the interaction between available services, office designs, and practitioners', managers', and service users' experiences of relating together.
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Australia's 2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended to organizations that children should participate in decisions affecting their lives as a safety standard. While a substantial body of research about children's voices in statutory or out‐of‐home care now exists, there remains a paucity of research into children's voices in family support services delivered by nongovernment organizations. This is despite the primary service purpose being to benefit children. This lack of focus in family support was identified as a research priority by a nongovernment organization in Queensland, Australia, which lead to a collaborative research programme. This article reports on initial research from a survey study to describe the current state of play from practitioners into their perceptions and practices of children's participation in family support contexts. A voluntary and anonymous online, qualitative‐predominate survey was opened to 110 practitioners in family support services, of which 50% responded. The findings identified that children's voices were compromised by perceptions of children's capacity relating to age and vulnerability, the parental focus of the service coupled with perceptions of parent's needs and gatekeeping behaviours and service pressures that work against the conditions required for children's rights to voice.
Article
The ways in which social workers experience a range of emotions that are evoked in their professional relationships with children and families is an area that is little focused upon and yet the processes involved in their expression and management can have profound implications for all involved. Theoretically informed by sociological concepts and combining data from a two-year, UK four-nation, ESRC-funded research project, 'Talking and Listening to Children' (TLC), this paper explores the ways in which social work organisational contexts and dynamics give rise to 'feeling rules' in the workplace and the impact of these on social workers' relationships with children and families. Using Hochschild's (1983) emotional labour analytical framework, the paper highlights that the management and expression of social workers' feelings are filtered through personal, professional and organisational contexts. The implications of these pervasive and powerful processes are explored. The paper concludes by considering the significant, wide-reaching implications of this focus on the experience, expression and management of emotion for everyday social work practice in both children and families settings specifically and other social work practice contexts more broadly.
Article
This paper reports on a qualitative study of outcomes for permanence and stability for children in long-term care in Ireland. The aim of this research was to inform social work practitioners on how to enhance stability and permanence for children and to inform decision making and report writing for children in care. The research was designed and delivered in partnership with social work practitioners in the relevant areas. Drawing from the significant literature on this area the main factors impacting on permanence and stability are summarised and presented in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Biographical narrative interviews were conducted with twenty-seven participants (children and young people, parents and foster parents). This paper reports how, amongst a complex array of findings, three themes most linked to affect permanence and stability were found to be Relationships, Communication and Social Support. Underpinning these, the importance of Continuity was significant. Based on these findings, recommendations and practice guidance for social workers were developed in partnership with the Irish statutory Child and Family Agency and are summarised in the Conclusion.
Article
Social work understanding of children’s citizenship has received little analysis and traditional models tend to view children as passive recipients of care or welfare, rather than as active meaning makers. This is particularly so for looked after children. In contrast, we draw upon the work of Pierre Bourdieu to develop a model of understanding children’s citizenship that on the one hand accounts for the structural flow of governance from modern welfare states that shape children’s lives, while recognising the agency and capacity for action among children. This article applies the model to those in the care system. To capture the everyday agency of children, we build upon Bourdieu’s notion of habitus with ideas of lived citizenship, as defined by Delanty and Lister, and recognition theory classically outlined by Honneth. Furthermore, we contribute to the existing work on habitus to develop a model adapted from the pragmatism associated with the work of Boltanski. In so doing, analysing the critical and justificatory account making of children themselves, social workers are able to engage positively with all children by drawing on a variety of their social worlds.
Article
Within the context of Norwegian Child Welfare Services, children's best interests are often promoted through inter-professional collaboration. Although children have the right and desire to participate, research reveals that professionals do not listen to them. On the basis of qualitative interviews with 10 children about their experiences collaborating with professionals, we have identified ways in which professionals can facilitate children's participation. The findings show that trusting relationships, emotional support, and pedagogical approaches increase children's participation in their interactions with professionals. The results show the importance of including a relational understanding of participation as a theoretical concept in child welfare and an awareness that power and dominance are in play.
Article
Communicating and engaging with children is a foundational component of child care social work practice, but all too frequently, in the wake of serious incidents, it is the focus of criticism. Drawing on findings from a large‐scale ESRC‐funded research project conducted in the four U.K. nations, this paper explores, through a psychosocial analytic lens, how social workers anticipate, enact and reflect on their encounters with both children and their families. Close analysis of what social workers said about their practice alongside what they were observed to do in practice revealed perceptions, patterns and processes of communication that, first, minimize emotions and the complexity of the professional task and second, overly privilege verbal interaction. Drawing on Sennett's (2012) ideas this paper offers a reconceptualisation of this professional task, from a communicative to a co‐operative one. It affords and creates a space in which social workers can develop more attuned communicative practices that include rituals, gestures and the minimal use of force. The theoretical insights and evidence‐informed practice recommendations arising from this research have conceptual significance for the social work discipline and practical significance for the child care social work profession, across national and international contexts.
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A key issue for the social work profession concerns the nature, quality and content of communicative encounters with children and families. This article introduces some findings from a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that took place across the UK between 2013 and 2015, which explored how social workers communicate with children in their everyday practice. The Talking and Listening to Children (TLC) project had three phases: the first was ethnographic, involving observations of social workers in their workplace and during visits; the second used video-stimulated recall with a small number of children and their social workers; and the third developed online materials to support social workers. This paper discusses findings from the first phase. It highlights a diverse picture regarding the context and content of communicative processes; it is argued that attention to contextual issues is as important as focusing on individual practitioners’ behaviours and outlines a model for so doing.
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Research into child and family social work has largely stopped short of getting close enough to practice to produce understandings of what goes on between social workers and service users. This is despite the known problems in social worker engagement with children in cases where they have died. This paper outlines and analyses the methods used in a study of social work encounters with children and families on home visits where there were child protection concerns. It illustrates how mobile methods of walking and driving interviews were conducted with social workers on the way to and from home visits, and how the ethnography involved participant observation and audio-recordings of the interactions between social workers, children and parents in the home, revealing the talk, actions and experiences that occurred. Social workers often moved around the home, especially to interview children on their own in their bedrooms, and the paper shows how ways were found to stay close enough to observe these sensitive encounters within families' most intimate spaces, while ensuring the research remained ethical. Ethnographic and mobile methods produce vital data that advance new understandings of everyday social work practices and service users' experiences and of dynamics that are similar to breakdowns in practice that have occurred in child death cases.
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• Summary: Social pedagogy is a virtually unknown concept and practice within the Anglo-Saxon world, yet it has considerable importance on the European mainland. This article provides an analysis of the concept of social pedagogy from the point of view of social work. The analysis traces the intricacy of social pedagogy by looking at its historical background and the different contexts in which the concept is used. • Findings: This analysis has been enormously influential in determining that identifying social pedagogy too closely with social work may hinder the development of social pedagogy as a discipline that forms a part of social work education. • Applications: The concept of social pedagogy can be manifested in several national traditions and therefore used in different contexts. The combination of social and pedagogical points of view can be integrated in social work education, adopted to produce theoretical constellations to form a special branch of study and used to organize social help.
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This paper treats the case of social pedagogy, which is an important but widely misunderstood member of the social professions, as an example of how only by exploring the historical roots and trajectories of methods paradigms can we hope to understand their contemporary, cross-national and cross-cultural relevance. It locates the rise of social pedagogy as both a method and as a set of social policy institutions in the historical context of the development of the German nation state with its particular relationship to a corporatist, conservative model of the welfare state. This illustrates not so much a singular development under particular historical circumstances, but the intricate interrelationship between social policies and social work methods which are a feature of this profession in all societies. By analysing the dynamics of this close relationship with social policy, which gave rise to the ambiguous reputation of social work as a semi-profession, the conditions of a theoretical engagement with contemporary social policy developments can be determined with much greater clarity. This is necessary, for instance, in relation of the rising importance of social care in the UK—a development which appears as yet under-theorized. Parallels and differences to the social pedagogy paradigm can only be discerned against the background of the analysis of the respective relationship to social policy. This, in turn, underlines the necessity for professional social work, under whatever title it is practised, to critically observe and contribute to the shaping of social policies in order to regain the professional initiative.
Book
It is now clear that if professionals are to make a real difference for children and young people, they must be able to engage and communicate with children themselves, not just their parents and carers. Practitioners must be able to listen to children, support them, keep them informed, and fully involve them in matters which concern them. This timely book aspires to prepare social workers and other practitioners for this challenging set of roles and tasks. In particular, it aims to enthuse readers to develop the most powerful resource they have to offer in their direct work with children: themselves.
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A literature review focusing on children's experiences of their contact with social workers, and identifying implications for policy and practice. The paper was subject to peer review.
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In this digital age the use of video in social science research has become commonplace. As sophistication has increased along with usability, as spiralling staff costs push out direct observation, the researchers training today are grasping video as a means of coming to terms with the continued pressure to produce accessible research. However, the ‘fit’ of technology with research is far from simple.
Article
In the past few years the subject of how one makes meaning of one's experiences, or meaning-making, has been a subject of frequent focus in the Child and Youth Care literature in North America (See, for example, Garfat, 1998; Krueger, 1994, 1998; VanderVen, 1992). We do not really know, however, whether meaning is pre-existent, or whether each of us is ultimately the 'author of his or her own life design' (Yalom, 1989, p. 8), creating meaning individually as we move through life. It has generally been accepted in the helping professions, however, that meaning is created as we encounter our experiences (Peterson, 1988; White & Epson, 1990; Watzlawick, 1990) creating for each of us a unique and individualised experience of an event. We also do not know, specifically, how meaning is created by the individual. It appears, however, that culture, personal history, sequencing, and specific circumstance play an important role in determining how one uses one's personal interpretive frame to make meaning of his or her encounters (Bruner, 1990 ; Fulcher, 1991; Goffman, 1974; Guttman, 1991). Each of us, then, brings to the making of meaning our individual experiences. When a young person and a Child and Youth Care Worker encounter one another in the process of intervention, both go through a process of making meaning of that encounter. Each creates both the specific context and the meaning they experience in that encounter (Schon, 1983). Thus the process of intervention is, to a great extent, the process of making meaning. In a sense, Child and Youth Care, like all helping professions, involves the encounter of cultures, each with its own way of assigning meaning to particular events. The culture of the young person and family, the culture of the dominant society, the culture of the program in the organization, and the culture of the worker all impinge on the intervention process. It is only when the worker attends to how meaning is construed in all of these that she can begin to understand the young person and his or her behaviour.
Article
Little research has been done into what social workers do in everyday child protection practice. This paper outlines the broad findings from an ethnographic study of face-to-face encounters between social workers, children and families, especially on home visits. The social work practice was found to be deeply investigative. Children's bedrooms were routinely inspected and were the most common place where they were seen alone. A high proportion of children were not seen on their own because they were too young and the majority of the time was spent working with parents and children together. Small amounts of time were spent with children on their own and some first encounters were so rushed that social workers did not even introduce themselves to the child. This arose from two key factors: firstly, organisational pressures from high workloads and the short timescales that social workers were expected to adhere to by managers and Government; secondly, practitioners had varying levels of communication skills, playfulness and comfort with getting close to children and skills at family work. Where these skills and relational capacities were present, social workers were found to have developed deep and meaningful relationships with some children and families, for whom it was apparent that therapeutic change had occurred.
Article
The article describes the characteristics of New Public Management (NPM) and gives a cursory overview of the development of the behavioral-administrative sciences and their relation to NPM. A descriptive model of the behavioral-administrative sciences is developed that pits three internally consistent scientific worldviews that are incommensurable to each other. From this, the theoretical origins of NPM can be traced to a variety of theoretical perspectives. Although the special mix of characteristics of NPM is new, it does not represent a paradigm change. Indeed, it is improbable that there will ever be one paradigm for the behavioral-administrative sciences; and without an accepted paradigm, a paradigm change is not really possible.
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Describes rhythm and presence, then focuses on roles of rhythm and presence in forming connections with troubled youth. Contends that techniques used to manage behavior and promote growth only work when workers are present (real) and in sync with children's rhythms. Offers six suggestions that are helpful in creating situations in which rhythm and presence occur. (NB)
Article
Social pedagogy is the discipline underpinning work with children and youth across most of Europe. The concept has struggled to find a place within social work in the English-speaking world, partly because of difficulties in translation and partly as a result of different welfare traditions. In particular there is a limited conception of education within the Anglo American Saxon tradition and a consequent bifurcation of education and care. This article argues that ideas enshrined within social pedagogy have a resonance with Scottish approaches to social welfare, which culminate in the Kilbrandon Report of 1964. We argue that there are recurrent themes in the Scottish tradition with roots in the Reformation and the Scottish Enlightenment. Foremost amongst these is the focus on education as a vehicle for both individual improvement and social cohesion. Social pedagogy or social education offers an integrating conceptual base from which to develop models of social work practice which promote social wellbeing through socio-educational strategies. The current review of social work in Scotland offers opportunities to reclaim a socio-educational tradition.
Article
The principal findings of the Victoria Climbié Inquiry Report (Lord Laming, 2003) repeat those of most previous fatal child abuse inquiries or reviews, revealing problems with professionals' assessments, communications, skill base and resources. There is a danger that the recommendations of this latest report will be implemented in an overbureaucratic manner, reducing their potential to make a significant difference to practice. Instead, it is essential to build on the core lessons of this and previous inquiries, which is that professionals' capacity to think about their cases and their work must be enhanced. This has considerable implications for the training of professionals and the resources available to them. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Article
One of the key lessons learnt in the UK from the Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié was the importance of social workers developing consistent and long-term relationships with young children in whose lives they are involved. This issue is now informing policy developments, including the proposed Social Work Practices which, based on a similar model to General Practitioner practices, aim to provide a lead professional to act as a parental figure and an advocate for every child in care. This paper begins by confirming the importance of developing relationships between social workers and young children, but questions the ability of the new policy developments to facilitate these. Drawing upon data from research involving interviews with social workers, the paper outlines the factors which hinder social workers’ relationships with young children and argues that while the new proposals address some of the more surface structural and organizational factors, they do not address the deeper factors regarding attitudes, values and emotional competence which are crucial if social workers are to successfully build relationships with young children in care.
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In this paper, I examine the nature of social pedagogy, a discipline with deep roots in Continental Europe but not in the UK. Things are changing, however. The politicians in Westminster are listening to the people at the Thomas Coram Research Unit in London. The message is unequivocal. It is time to learn from social pedagogical approaches to working with looked-after children in other European countries. Why is this? The government wants to prepare an early years professional who can combine the skills of a social worker with those of an educator. Based on case studies of successful approaches to improving the well-being of looked-after children in Denmark, France and Germany, the Thomas Coram researchers have found a child care professional who can pull this off: the social pedagogue. As a professor of social pedagogy in a Norwegian university that educates social pedagogues, I want to shed light on a discipline that might help British stakeholders in child care settings to draw selective lessons from a promising Nordic model.
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