Families, Policy and Professional Practice Research Group

Children playingOur research is committed to the development of family-minded policy and practice through the advancement of knowledge, theory and evidence.

The concept of 'family' features strongly in current UK social policy. The rhetoric of current and previous governments has stressed the importance of a focus on 'the family', typically imbued with normative assumptions about the desirability of particular forms of family and their role in delivering particular policy outcomes. Research within the School of Social Policy takes a critical but constructive approach to these discourses. We recognise that 'family' is a problematic and complex concept; that many different kinds of relationships can constitute what we mean by families; and that a very wide range of social processes affect the nature and quality of family life. Examination and understanding of this diversity in the forms and dynamics of families is therefore a critical dimension of our research interest.

We also recognise that membership of families is a crucial part of everyday social life for most people and a source of many satisfactions, but that, at the same time, an impoverished experience of family can be a significant aspect of social exclusion and disadvantage. The impact of specific policies and services on such experience is therefore a core topic for our research, as we seek to enhance understandings of family-focused approaches in social work, and its allied practice and academic disciplines. Despite the 'Think Family' policy initiative, there is still a paucity of research that has been conducted from a genuinely 'whole families' perspective, exploring the impact of services and practices in terms of promoting social inclusion, well-being and more effective social functioning within families. Conceptually, this involves moving beyond a narrow focus on individual family members and exploring their relational contexts both within and outside the family unit (however defined).

Members of the research group work in close collaboration with partner academic institutions, policy and practice communities and service user groups, locally, nationally and internationally. Through the Birmingham Social Work Academy, we are engaging with local practitioners and managers to support a critical awareness of these issues in the design and delivery of services and practice to families within the local area. In parallel, we are currently leading an international researcher exchange scheme, with partner universities in Italy, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Chile and Mexico, exploring approaches to 'Understanding and supporting families with complex needs' across a diverse range of social care, health and education services delivered in varied national contexts.