Moving from the individual to the relational: child protection reimagined

Posted on Monday 28th October 2013

Brid Featherstone, Professor of Social Care, The Open University, Sue White, Professor of Social Work, University of Birmingham, and Kate Morris, Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Nottingham contribute to Blog 'Moving from the individual to the relational: child protection reimagined'.

"Jo has been qualified as a social worker for two years. She works from a new office in the centre of town, based above the ‘one stop shop’ access point for local authority services. The council’s policy of hot desking means there is little clutter on desks. It is perfect white space, corporately pristine. There are few personalised areas and Jo may be sitting with different people each day. Most days she visits families in their homes driving to the estate where many of those on her caseload live. Jo visits the estate in her car. She has never walked around it, shopped there or stopped for a coffee, sandwich or a drink. Indeed, there are few places to buy food and drink. She has noticed that the corner shop has just closed and some of her families have complained to her that the supermarket is two bus rides away. There is a children’s centre and she has visited it for meetings but she has no time to be involved in any of the activities run there (activities that are being cut at an alarming rate currently).

When she visits family homes, she is very aware of the importance of seeing and talking to the children and tries to take them out for a trip to town on their own occasionally. The importance of engaging directly with children has been reinforced for her by the recent tragic deaths of children such as Daniel Pelka. She recognises that children can become invisible especially if workers are too caught up with the needs of parents or immobilised by their angry and resistant behaviour. So she works very hard to adopt a firm and consistent approach with parents. She is always aware of the dangers of being too trusting of their accounts or becoming too involved with them, though their problems are obvious and pressing. She is careful to keep conversations very clearly focused on the children’s welfare and is aware of the need to see the contents of cupboards and fridges and also to check bedrooms.

In summary, Jo makes sure she is child focused and that she returns to her office to record all her activities diligently and reinforces her accountability for her actions in supervision.

Welcome to the everyday world of social work practice with children and families in England. Its moral mandate is clear enough, but what are the effects of this system design and the underpinning ethos on children, families and social workers themselves? While boxes are ticked and the ‘right’ people are seen and talked to, we suggest there is too high a price being paid by children, families and social workers. Although the system is ostensibly all about them, children and young people seldom self-refer and tell researchers that when they are troubled, they prefer to seek help from those they know and trust (or helplines where they can remain anonymous). They tell of their fear of talking to social workers as they may lose control over what is done and how."

Read and comment on the full Blog 'Moving from the individual to the relational: child protection reimagined'