Social Care, Social Care Debate, Social Work, Social Work Debate

What’s in store for us in 2013? What do I hope for? Opinion piece by Prof. Brigid Featherstone – #SWSCmedia debate

Prof. Brigid Featherstone

Prof. Brigid Featherstone

Well I hope that those of us who are involved in social work and social care reclaim the discredited phrase ‘we are all in this together’ and make common cause as workers, researchers and service users to challenge the divisive social policies being pursued by the current government.   The work of researchers such as Wilkinson, Pickett and Dorling offers a compelling evidence base from which to argue for a more sustainable and socially just society and we need to use this evidence base in our public and private lives to make the case for resistance and change.

Furthermore, we need to apply the research evidence on inequalities to understand what is happening in the area of child protection. Given the long- standing evidence that the children who are removed from their families are those who are poor and often from minority ethnic backgrounds, it is fair to say that the current child protection system reproduces and reinforces existing inequalities and it is going to get worse under the current government.  Not only are vital support services being removed but the proposed benefit changes will make even more families vulnerable.  Current policy directions towards early removal and ‘out of family’ adoption reinforce existing tendencies to construct children as individuals who should be rescued for their own good by an all knowing and benign state. However, such constructions are profoundly mistaken and ride roughshod over children’s rights to be cared for safely by their families of origin and families’ needs  to be supported properly in caring for children.

In my research on child protection in the last few years[1] I have met parents who are seriously  economically and socially disadvantaged and often have tragic stories to tell of past abuse or neglect.  Sadly, the vast majority of those I have spoken to do not find in the current child protection system a space where they can find support or healing. Rather, they find it long on blame and short on helpfulness[2].  Indeed, they are often frightened by our systems with case conferences, in particular, experienced as terrifying. Moreover, they are often every unclear about their rights under the law and have few sources of independent, knowledgeable advice.

For those family and friends carers who take on the care of children in the context of parental abuse, their narratives often contain evidence of feeling poorly supported financially and emotionally. Many also fear the current policy focus on early removal and ‘out of family’ adoption will result in children being lost to family networks permanently.

When I talk to social workers about my findings, many understand only too well that they are not working in partnership with parents as the Children Act 1989 urged and that the systems they work within do not promote or support the capacities of families to care for their children safely.

So I plan to spend 2013 redoubling my efforts to  build a system where families can be supported to care for their children safely. I am fortunate that I have wonderful academic colleagues such as Kate Morris and Sue White working with me and organisations such as Family Rights Group to offer expertise and wise counsel. My hope is that I can persuade many others to join us and build a system we can all be proud of.

[1] I have led a number of evaluations of advice and advocacy services run by Family Rights Group since 2009.

[2] This is a very helpful phrase used by Gary Melton (see the article by Featherstone, B., Morris, K and White S forthcoming in the British Journal of Social Work and available from the author by request  for a list of references)

Prof.  Brigid Featherstone (@Brigid39) is a Professor of Social Care at the Open University and a member of our Expert Panel @SWSCmedia.

We look forward to your views, experiences, and insights as we explore ‘What is in store for Social Work, Social Care and Health?’ in @SWSCmedia Twitter debate on 8 January at 8:00 PM GMT / 3:00 PM EST.



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