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Preview: British Journal of Social Work - current issue

The British Journal of Social Work Current Issue

Published: Sat, 14 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Last Build Date: Sat, 14 Oct 2017 09:52:41 GMT


From Attachment to Recognition for Children in Care


Attachment theory has, over the last half-century, offered important insights into the nature of early experience and into human relationships more generally. These lessons have been influential in improving child-care attitudes and provision. While acknowledging such advances, our argument in this article is that the dominance accorded attachment theory in policy and professional discourse has reached a point where understandings of human relationships have become totalised within an attachment paradigm; it has become the ‘master theory’ to which other ways of conceiving of childcare and of relationships more generally become subordinated. Yet, many of the assumptions underlying attachment theory, and the claims made for it, are contestable. We trace the growing prominence of attachment theory in childcare, proceeding to critique the provenance of many claims made for it and the implications of these for practice. At the heart of the critique is a concern that an overreliance on attachment contributes to the biologisation of how we bring up children to the detriment of socio-cultural perspectives. We go on to offer one suggestive alternative way through which we might conceive of child-care relationships, drawing on Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition.

Revisiting the Rule of Optimism


The ‘rule of optimism’ has been a key feature of child protection discourse in the UK since being introduced as a theoretical construct over thirty years ago. It has continuously been drawn upon to explain professional action and has been most notably utilised as a powerful explanatory device within Serious Case Reviews (SCRs). Yet, despite its longevity, the deployment of the construct has been subject to very little critique. This paper seeks to redress that balance and will explore how ‘the rule’ as an explanatory device has become rearticulated and repositioned as an individualising psychological construct which has almost invariably focused attention on the practices of individual social workers at the expense of an analysis of the structural conditions which frame these practices. In doing so, this paper traces the origins of the rule and explores the integrity and thrust of contemporary applications. Evidence from recent SCRs will be drawn upon to suggest that ‘the rule’, albeit in its psychologically distilled form, retains currency. Drawing on the work of Berlant, ‘the rule of optimism’ will be reconsidered alongside an exploration of the ‘role of optimism’.

The Lady and the Pram: Women in Child Protection


Historically, ‘putting-children-first’ dominates public and political discussion of child protection. We rarely see child-welfare-involved mothers in the public imagination and their voices are mostly unheard. Too often, these women are written out of history, ghosts to us, their voices lost while the lingering effects in the production of child protection remain unrecognised. This single case study examines the speech acts of a child-welfare-involved mother in conversation with the researcher. It is a study of power, maternal vulnerability and maternal agency. A contrapuntal, out-of-time close reading demonstrates the symbolic and literal of imagery and metaphor present in her account. Three concepts—maternal identity, dispossession and agency—shape its textual structure. Listening to her use of imagery and metaphor and collecting these scattered elements together allow different lines of thought to emerge. This kind of listening even in the strained circumstances of current child protection practice is possible and can be adapted to child protection conversations in other localities where the textual structure will be different but open to examination. There is no substitute for the voices of child-welfare-involved mothers if we are to ensure fairness and justice towards their participation in the practices of child protection.

A Chronic Problem: Competing Paradigms for Substance Abuse in Child Welfare Policy and Practice and the Need for New Approaches


Care-giver substance abuse (SA) represents one of the most common reasons for entering the child welfare system in the USA with families and children for whom substance abuse is an issue fairing worse at every stage of the child welfare process from investigation to removal to reunification. In this conceptual article, we assert that a paradigm clash between a framework for SA that understands treatment and recovery to be a linear process and a framework that views relapse as normative underlies many of the reasons that SA represents a seemingly intractable issue within child welfare. We identify this mismatch as a mechanism for more severe trajectories of SA cases and then suggest new models for child welfare policy and practice that anticipate relapse and which respond to the often chronic nature of substance use disorders.

Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation with Young People and Parents: Contributions to a Twenty-First-Century Family Support Agenda


This article discusses family work with young people, parents and carers affected by child sexual exploitation (CSE). It seeks to address a key gap in child protection responses to CSE, namely family support which addresses the needs both of young people and of parents and carers. The paper presents learning from the evaluation of an early-intervention project with young people at risk of or affected by CSE and their families (D’Arcy et al., 2015). It links this empirical evidence to existing research and recent debates in the social work literature about what constitutes effective practice with families and young people. While acknowledging the need for CSE specialist services, it argues that separation between mainstream social work and CSE prevention work with families and young people is not always helpful. The research presented, based on interviews, roundtable discussions and a literature review, highlights the ways of working needed in this field. By connecting family support, work with young people and CSE prevention, we seek to contribute to a broader agenda for social work. This agenda calls for a twenty-first-century reconfiguration of social work using holistic family support practices that work with families’ strengths and apply a participatory approach, providing services which emphasise ‘relationships’ and ‘support’.

Perceptions of Children in Residential Care Homes: A Critical Review of the Literature


In England, UK, there has been an overall decline in the use of residential care for children over the years. The aim of this systematic review was to review literature concerning children placed in residential care to investigate whether this setting can meet the often complex needs of children and to explore how residential care fits in the care system today. A comprehensive search strategy was used in nine electronic databases. Studies identified were independently assessed for eligibility by two authors using a set of inclusion and exclusion criteria. Data were extracted from the final set of studies using a data-extraction tool. A thematic analysis was then conducted. The findings of the review highlighted that residential care is an important part of the care system and can have both a positive and negative effect on children’s emotional, behavioural and social development, as well as their mental health and academic progress. The main recommendations from this systematic review are that staff should have further training in mental health awareness. Furthermore, there should be an increase in individual support for children, whilst attachments and bonds between staff and children should be enhanced and encouraged.

The Influence of Adoption on Sibling Relationships: Experiences and Support Needs of Newly Formed Adoptive Families


For better or worse, the significance of the sibling relationship throughout the life course is widely acknowledged. This paper explores the ways in which sibling relationships, in their various forms, are affected by adoption. The case-file records of 374 children recently placed for adoption in Wales were reviewed. Questionnaires were completed by ninety-six adoptive parents, with whom a sample of these children were placed, and a sub-sample of forty adoptive parents were interviewed. Most children placed for adoption together with a sibling carried a shared history of maltreatment. Many had complex, often conflictual relationships. Nevertheless, birth siblings in the adoptive home also provided support and comfort for children. New sibling relationships, created by placing children into families with existing children, carried their own set of advantages and complications. Some children placed apart from birth siblings had plans for contact that had not yet materialised. Whilst adoptive parents were often determined to help strengthen sibling bonds created and affected by adoption, this commitment was not always championed through social work intervention. The implications for social work practice in adoption are considered and a family systems framework is proposed as a way of helping to understand sibling dynamics in adoptive families.

Supporting Implementation of Innovative Social Work Practice: What Factors Really Matter?


Achieving client outcomes is understood as a complex, dynamic interplay of elements including the client, worker/s, programme setting and practice approach. How an organisation supports or constrains implementation of innovative social work practice is worthy of research attention. The emergence of frameworks for translating evidence-based practice into health and mental health settings reflects increasing interest in implementation. However, there are few studies of the implementation of evidence-informed social work practice, including innovations developed by service providers. This is concerning, as poor implementation will impede the chances of desired client outcomes being realised. The study that was the focus of this paper looked at the influence of organisational context in the implementation of a new therapeutic social work programme for child protection clients. Using a qualitative approach, the intent of programme designers was compared to the experiences of front line workers in order to identify commonality, contradictions and gaps. The research was informed by structuration theory whereby the experience of workers was understood to influence and be influenced by the implementation process. Thirty-six factors were identified as influential on practice implementation, with five factors emerging as key drivers. A tentative conceptual map of evidence-informed implementation is proposed as a method of supporting new child and family social work.

Blinded by Science: The Social Implications of Epigenetics and Neuroscience, David Wastell and Susan White


Blinded by Science: The Social Implications of Epigenetics and Neuroscience, WastellDavid and WhiteSusan, London, Policy Press, 2017, pp. 304, ISBN 978–1447322344 £26.99 (p/b)

Child Welfare as Justice: Why Are We Not Effectively Addressing Inequalities?


This theoretical paper addresses fundamental questions raised by a four-nation comparison of child welfare interventions in the UK, the Child Welfare Inequalities Project, which has highlighted differences between and within countries. The project analysed administrative data to examine the relationship between deprivation and state intervention. This project builds on research by Coventry University which established both a social gradient in child welfare interventions and an inverse intervention effect similar to the inverse health law (better health care in more affluent areas). These empirical findings raise the question of, but do not fully answer, whether such inequalities in child welfare interventions should be addressed. In order to consider this complex question, this article aims to explore theoretical ideas from other disciplines to provide important perspectives on such inequalities. These perspectives include ideas from political theory, psychology and moral philosophy. They suggest that child welfare should be: structured in a fairer way (based on Rawls’s work on justice); that people think society is more equitable than it is and would prefer it to be more equally distributed (based on Norton and Ariely’s work on attitudes to inequality); and that it is ethically irrational not to address this (based on Singer’s work on moral distance).

Youth Initiated Mentors: Do They Offer an Alternative for Out-of-Home Placement in Youth Care?


The present study evaluates the Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM) approach in which families and youth care professionals collaborate with an informal mentor, who is someone adolescents (aged twelve to twenty-three) nominate from their own social network. The informal mentor can be a relative, neighbour or friend, who is a confidant and spokesman for the youth and a co-operation partner for parents and professionals. This approach fits with the international tendency in social work to make use of the strengths of families’ social networks and to stimulate client participation. The current study examined through case-file analysis of 200 adolescents (YIM group n = 96, residential comparison group n = 104) whether the YIM approach would be a promising alternative for out-of-home placement of youth with complex needs. A total of 83 per cent of the juveniles in the YIM group were able to nominate a mentor after an average of thirty-three days. Ninety per cent of the adolescents in the YIM group received ambulatory treatment as an alternative for indicated out-of-home-placement, while their problems were largely comparable with those of juveniles in Dutch semi-secure residential care. Results suggest that the involvement of important non-parental adults may help to prevent out-of-home placement of adolescents with complex needs.

Child Protection in New Zealand: A History of the Future


To contextualise the current reform process, this article broadly explores the development of child protection social work in New Zealand over the last thirty years. Reference is made to parallel developments in England. Critique of the role of neo-liberalism, scientific rationality and managerialism is developed. Specific attention is given to a racialised discourse in the New Zealand setting, in relation to the protection of indigenous Māori children. This discourse has merged with the concept of underclass reproduction in the current policy review process. A social investment policy approach perceives ill-treated children in terms of future liability. Accordingly, more children are likely to be brought into state care. It is argued that the social knowledge form endemic to social work runs counter to this science-centric and punitive neo-liberal approach to child protection. Implications of this analysis for the future development of social work practice in child protection are considered. It is suggested that social work is responding to the ethical challenge which arises. Pivotal roles for professional associations, advocacy groups and academics are identified in terms of championing the significance of the social work knowledge form in this conflicted field: developing alternative political and practice visions.

Exploring Peer Mentoring as a Form of Innovative Practice with Young People at Risk of Child Sexual Exploitation


Peer-led approaches hold unique and innovative potential as a response to child sexual exploitation (CSE), yet little is known about such approaches in this field. This study aims to increase understanding by listening to young people using one such service. Qualitative methods were adopted in an attempt to understand how young people make sense of peer mentoring, data were collected through self-completion booklets, interviews and a focus group, and analysed using thematic analysis and Gilligan’s listening guide (see Kiegelmann, 2009). Given the small and local sample, the findings presented are not representative; rather they provide a snapshot, which enables us to consider the approach with this client group and the broader implications for peer-led practices. Peer mentoring emerges here as a method which may have emotional, practical and inter-personal benefits for young people facing multiple vulnerabilities. It also, importantly, reaches young women from hidden populations, who are often missing from, or missed by, support services. The article concludes by reflecting on the dilemmas associated with peer-led work and by outlining suggestions made by young people themselves, in the hope that inherent strengths in the approach can be recognised and embedded.

Contact After Adoption: A Longitudinal Study of Post-Adoption Contact Arrangements, Elsbeth Neil, Mary Beek and Emma Ward


Contact After Adoption: A Longitudinal Study of Post-Adoption Contact Arrangements, NeilElsbeth, BeekMary and WardEmma, London, CoramBAAF, 2015, pp. 308, ISBN 978 1 910039 288, £14.95 (pb)

The Common-Sense Guide to Improving the Safeguarding of Children: Three Steps to Make a Real Difference, Terry McCarthy


The Common-Sense Guide to Improving the Safeguarding of Children: Three Steps to Make a Real Difference, McCarthyTerry, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 179, ISBN 978 1 84905 621 2, £22.99 (p/b)

Childhood, Michael Wyness


Childhood, WynessMichael, Cambridge, Polity, 2015, pp. 240, ISBN 9780745662350, £15.99 (pb).